Natural High’s founder, Jon Sundt is driven by past experiences, memories that will be forever affixed to the mission of his nonprofit organization that’s changing the dialogue concerning drug prevention.
I. LIFE RAFT
At first, there were three. Brothers clutching dreams – boys who loved the outdoors and organized athletics and the ocean, they were two years apart. When the waves crashed ashore, the boys let them wash over their bodies as if a remedy, allowing it to carry them back to the surf.
They had no trouble fitting in. No trouble standing out.
The oldest boy took care of his two younger brothers. He could only cognize the shoreline, though. Steven started experimenting with drugs in high school; Eric began a few years prior. The boy watched Steven fall from 200 pounds to 83, withering to a shell of his former self. He told his brother if the progression continued, death would eventually come calling.
He considered the notion made by his brother, and allowed it to fall beneath the gulf.
Steven and Eric began leaving the boy at home more and more; the two rarely attended household meals. The family grew apart and apart and apart until the home became a buoy incapable of sustenance. Their home began to leak.
The youngest brother, Steven, married his high school sweetheart and enrolled in a myriad of drug treatment programs. He had a beautiful daughter, Jennifer.
“He would always be coming up from the garage and he would greet me with a big hug.”
The boy’s mother remembers Steven beginning to have seizures in the living room. She felt her boy was acting distant, removed. One night he relapsed, went back to cocaine – his heart ceased beating in the back seat of a police cruiser. Jennifer remembers her father not coming out to greet her from the garage the next day.
“The drugs had overpowered his love for me.”
Eric, the boy’s other younger brother, suffered from depression for a majority of his life. He developed an overpowering mental illness. Doctors would later say that it was very likely linked to his drug addiction. The boy’s brother spent eight years in Patton State Hospital – he was never the same.
One day at work, the boy received a phone call from his mother. She thought Eric had jumped from the Coronado Bridge. It was confirmed hours later.
The boy learned to swallow tragedy in 1988 and again six years later. He held his mother at home, trying to convince himself that he hadn’t lost both of his brothers, not Steven, not Eric, too.
Jon Sundt chose to refract the light, shining it back on the cause. Why were his brothers tricked into trying substances that would eventually manifest into mental cancer? Why the initial investment?
“I was determined to use that tragedy to affect change.”
Everyone knew that Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin had died. Emulation was still somehow the focal. Most of the drug prevention programs wove accounts of death and tragedy but positive narratives spun around living drug-free were virtually nonexistent. It wasn’t as captivating as a headline, not as poignant as a statistic.
So he turned on the television.
“Everyone I knew that was successful had something bigger and better than drugs. Celebrities will promote soft drinks and clothes but they never get to tell a great story.”
Twenty years ago, the Natural High moniker came to fruition: a camera, YouTube account, and a handful of stories. Traveling to high schools and junior-high schools with local celebrities and a slide projector, Sundt had found his undertaking. Jon began reframing the dialogue of drug prevention, backed by a nonprofit organization he had created.
“Everyone is influenced by the power of stories.”
As of now, Natural High’s message has reached 7 million children and can be found in 16,000 schools. By 2018, they hope to reach 15 million – approximately half of the elementary and middle school populous in the country.
“I want Natural High to be a part of the common language and the dialogue. The dream for me is: if a kid goes to a party and another kid shows him a handful of pills from the medicine cabinet and says ‘here, take these,’ and the kid goes, ‘I’m into a natural high, I’m good.’ And the other kid respects that answer.”
Where organizations such as Drug Abuse Resistance Education (D.A.R.E.) failed to generate positive impact, Natural High refutes scare tactics.
They motivate and provide discourse.
What used to be a DVD-based curriculum with accompanying study guides is now supplemented by an online presence including: videos, questionnaires, and a variety of alternative modes of engagement. Teachers can dedicate as little as one day to the initiative; many more have made it into yearlong projects including a presentation at the end of the school year.
Helping link Natural High’s outreach with its scope are celebrities with expansive platforms. Numerous athletes including: Mike Conley, Jr. (NBA, Memphis Grizzlies), Jordyn Wieber (World Champion Gymnast), Lisa Leslie (Former WNBA All-Star), Travis Pastrana (American Motorsports Champion), Danyelle Wolf (U.S. Boxing Champion), Kelly Clark (U.S. Snowboarding Gold Medalist).
It’s not just athletes. Grammy Award winning musicians and television show contestants are also involved. Vans Warped Tour has even partnered with the nonprofit organization. By partnering with celebrity ambassadors, Natural High produces videos and educational curriculum to millions of youth in all fifty states.
Currently, all of the celebrity partnerships have been made with those who have steered away from drugs, but Sundt believes that threshold may be crossed soon.
“We have plenty of stories to tell.”
V. THE SURF
Jon Sundt’s office looks out into the ocean. Most days you can spot him gazing into the abyss.
When he’s not surfing or running his three companies, he can be found at home with his wife and two children. Sundt catalyzed his passion by channeling his heartbreak into hope. In many ways he has changed, but he is still very much the same boy who’d race headlong into water with his two best friends at his side.
“The best kind of stories are ones that bring you towards something.”
If you would like to make a donation to Natural High, visit: http://naturalhigh.org/give/