Jack Norman’s parents divorced when he was young. His dad had a drinking problem. When he lost his job, Jack’s mother picked up a second job, to support Jack and his younger brother.
One day when Jack was 13, he stayed home from his school sick. His dad came to take care of him. When Jack woke from a nap and asked for a sandwich, his father stood up — and passed out. He’d been drinking all morning.
Jack cut off all contact with him. Two months later, his father died.
Soon, Jack’s mom — 1985 Staples High School graduate Jen Rago — returned to her hometown from Atlanta. She’d be closer to her family, and her sons could attend better schools.
Jack thrived as a Coleytown Middle School 8th grader. The next year, at Staples High, he discovered Players and the Teen Awareness Group. He stage managed 18 shows, as well as music department and other performances. He served as TAG’s treasurer; this year as a senior, he’s president.
Last summer, he worked at A Child’s Place. He also babysits through CrossFit Westport’s daycare program.
Jack is a role model for many students. Through TAG, he talks to freshman health classes about the challenges of growing up, and the toll addiction takes on individuals and their families. He is open about his life, and the devastating effects of his father’s alcoholism.
Now, Jack is reaching an even broader audience. “Jack’s Story” has been posted on Positive Directions’ website. And he’s featured in the organization’s new PSA.
When the non-profit mental health and addictive behaviors education/ prevention program asked for volunteers to share their stories, Jack never hesitated.
His TAG presentations — which began when he was a sophomore — have convinced him of the importance of letting students know they’re not alone.
“I’ve been lucky enough to have resources, and a support system,” the articulate, insightful and very energetic teenager says.
“My mom has been there for me. Mr. Frimmer at Coleytown, and the theater family at Staples, they’ve been great too.”
So Jack talks — at Staples, and now online. He describes growing up with an alcoholic father. His painful decision to cut off contact. Writing something that was read at the funeral.
When he first moved to Westport, Jack says, new friends asked about his parents. Jack tried to protect them from hearing the truth.
However, he soon realized, “death is a reality. If you can’t talk about it, it consumes you.” TAG gave him the opportunity to break down the stigma surrounding addiction, and to encourage, empower and inspire many others.
The day after one of Jack’s talks, a freshman approached him during a Players rehearsal. Tearfully, she said she was sorry for his loss.
“I’m okay,” Jack replied. “But how are you?”
“It’s just good to know other people understand,” she said simply. They hugged.
“Knowing someone felt less alone, that’s very satisfying,” Jack says. Even if they don’t tell him everything, he’s helped them take one step on a long journey.
The Positive Directions PSA does the same thing. “The whole idea is to get the message out there,” Jack explains. That message is: It can happen to anyone.
This fall, Jack heads to college. He hopes to study stage management.
And he knows he will continue to speak up.