Preston Pollard gets excited when he starts talking about Tommy. The two met while Pollard was working at a youth center in Compton, California. Tommy was a 10-year-old who faced a troubling environment while at home and bullying while away. Pollard knew the young man needed a positive influence, so every chance he got, Pollard listened to Tommy and shared pieces of his own story.
Growing up in Anchorage, Pollard was misunderstood. He was told he had learning disabilities and was put in special education classes. He found joy in skateboarding, but other kids made fun of him for practicing the unusual sport. From that adversity, Pollard built his dream life.
He moved to Los Angeles after high school where he eventually achieved his goal of becoming a professional skateboarder. He worked as a motivational speaker, a television personality, and a model for brands like Nike and Forever 21. Through it all, he has always found the most joy in helping and encouraging others.
Pollard’s most recent endeavor is a program called Push Forward, which he launched in early 2021. “[Through] all of my speaking and connecting with students over the years I’ve realized one thing: they need a mentor,” he says. He developed Push Forward to give them one. Aimed at youth in grades six through 12, the curriculum includes eight prerecorded videos meant to be shown over eight weeks. The videos are followed by worksheets that help students develop their emotional intelligence. Twice during the eight weeks, Pollard joins the students live to listen and connect with them on a more personal level.
The Push Forward content includes celebrity interviews with actors, directors, and artists. When Pollard interviewed Mark Ruffalo, the celebrity actor who plays the Hulk, he thought of Tommy and how much Tommy loves the Hulk. So Pollard asked Ruffalo if he had any advice for Tommy. Ruffalo looked into the camera and delivered a message of encouragement as if speaking directly to Tommy.
The next time Pollard saw Tommy at the youth center, he showed him Ruffalo’s message. Tommy cried. Based on that reaction, Pollard says he knew a shift had occurred in the young man’s mentality. “When I get to help people, I feel alive,” Pollard says. “When I get to encourage people, I feel alive.”