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First Aid Silver Medalist

Tonja Edwards
Tonja Edwards
Cosmetology/Technical Education
Manatee Technical Institute
Manatee County

Tonja Edwards is a survivor and a winner. Not only is she a 2002 graduate of the Cosmetology program, she is also the 2002 National Silver Medalist in CPR/First Aid (Skills USA-VICA).

This 42-year-old mother of three children did not achieve this success overnight. The father of her children left when her youngest was only two months old. One of her children has Crohn's disease. She had to go on welfare until she could get a job as a childcare worker.

Tonja worked in childcare for 20 years, getting her Child Development Associate (CDA) credential along the way. Towards the end of those 20 years, her oldest graduated from high school and she started to have difficulty dealing with the children in her care. She had to go back on welfare through Jobs ETC. She began volunteering in the office, making copies and filing. She knew she needed to embark on a new career.

With the help of the Displaced Homemakers Program on the Manatee Technical Institute (MTI) Campus, she enrolled in Cosmetology. Upon finishing the program, she took the licensing exam and passed. While she is waiting for her license to arrive in the mail, she is volunteering at several salons four hours every other day. One of the salons will hire her as soon as her license arrives.

When Tonja Edwards got on the plane to fly to Kansas City and represent the state of Florida in the National Skills USA competition, it was the first time she had ever flown and the first time she had ever been out of Manatee County. She let out a shriek when the plane took off. And when she won second place in the nation, the MTI team let out a shriek — a shriek of joy for someone who was so humble, who had worked so hard and overcome so much.

For more information on Manatee Technical Institute, visit