Tom is a dedicated volunteer and a resident of CLT’s largest supportive housing program, Bowdoin Manor in Beacon Hill. CLT encourages residents to participate in service work and 28% of supportive housing residents volunteer on a regular basis. The following write-up was created by Holden Sparacino, a Northeastern University senior and development and communications intern at CLT.
“I help people because I can. I get to know people and I tell them my story. It helps me to build friendships and it makes me feel better about myself,” says Tom, a smiling, talkative Bowdoin Manor resident of three years. Tom is in his 60s and devotes much of his time to volunteering in the community.
Orphaned at age five, Tom joined the army at eighteen and served fourteen years in Vietnam, Germany and Korea. He later found work as a cook. “Then I made several errors in my life,” explains Tom, “and I spent most of the next thirty years in prison.” Tom had nowhere to go when he was released and stayed at a veteran’s shelter in Boston. He began his volunteerism there, handling paperwork and helping new residents move in. “I can socialize with veterans like that,” says Tom, “because I’ve been where they’ve been.”
Tom has stayed in contact with people he met in prison, serving as a mentor for those newly released. He knows how hard adjusting is. “When I got out, I had nobody.” says Tom. “I had to go through all of it by myself. That’s the biggest reason I do it.” Tom helps former prisoners to secure food stamps and social security benefits. He helps them find housing in a shelter or something more stable if possible. But he goes beyond basics: Tom buys them dinner, shows them how to get around Boston, even takes them on a duck boat ride. “They come out and they have what’s on their back. Maybe they have a few dollars,” says Tom. “I stay in contact with them until they’re back on their feet.”
Tom is also an Alcoholics Anonymous sponsor, largely because of his past. He attends the weekly recovery group at Bowdoin Manor as well as local AA meetings. “I lost my military career because of my drinking. I lost jobs because of my drinking and I went to prison because of my drinking,” explains Tom. “I did a lot of treatment to get my head back on straight [in prison]. I had a lot of guys in there help me. I told them ‘If I ever get out of this place and you guys come out, I’ll try to help you.’ And that’s what I’m doing.” He calls his mentees daily. If they relapse, he sticks with them no matter what. “Everybody’s going to relapse− if you don’t, there’s something wrong with you. I ask them to come into AA tomorrow and explain everything to the group. Sometimes they just want to talk to me about it. So I say ‘Okay, come on over.’”
Its clear Tom feels lucky to have stability in his life, and does what he can to help others to achieve it as well. “When [CLT staff] first showed me my room they said ‘Oh, sorry it’s such a small room,” he says. “I said ‘No, that’s a castle.’ This place has helped me a lot; it’s given me the time to look at what I’m doing.” Tom knows that his volunteerism helps not only others, but himself as well: “I get a good feeling, that’s my reward. I didn’t start smiling until a few years ago. It’s hard when you first get out. It’s still hard, but it’s getting easier. What you get, you can’t keep it,” he says, “you’ve got to share it.”