With wind blowing across our faces and the distinct scent of gunpowder in the air, we listen and realize we are on this sort of holy ground where kinship and similar world views collide. His voice is sure and steady. He seems to know everyone and everything. As the sporting clays disintegrate to powder on this beautiful September morning, we realize we aren’t here to shoot at a fundraiser. We are here to meet Tom.
As our director and founder, Lisa Cuffaro and I hold on to the handrails of our golf cart, we can’t help but realize that this guy is a modern day Mother Teresa hailing from the most unlikely place, Mentor, TN. A small rural town once decimated and poverty stricken, it has begun to make a comeback and gentrification from a much younger working class is on the horizon. Tom can see it and he feels it before it even happens. He seems to have a love for this town and takes it personal so he wanted to see what it would look like for “the village” to begin to raise and take care of their own again.
Oh and this guy, Tom, he gets it. His heart is for change through community and real relationship. His background is in substance abuse recovery and rehab but he has realized that this plague can be addressed before it ever manifests and turns into broken homes, poverty, abuse, and demoralization. He has seen what just a “program” can offer and realizes true recovery and personal revitalization only happens in the context of sincere friendship and community that looks like family.
So he searched for a place to begin to build and procure his dream. Dan Kelly, a businessman in the community, had just the right piece of property/building and the right heart. Dan had a dream too. His heart was for someone to come along and “bring my village back”. Through tears and with fulfilled anticipation, Tom knew this was the right opportunity for Mentor, TN and the right timing for a chance to not only bring the village back but to “let them ALL come”.
And so, Harbours Gate Community Center was born. Labeled as “Your Neighborhood Peace Corp”, it is the closest thing to heaven we have ever seen. It bled some of the same beautiful tenants and core values of Destiny. Tom has grown exponentially but grown small always making sure that it was never to big to stop for the one person at a time. He has focused with his incredible volunteers on breaking the cycle of childhood trauma that is more prevalent and accepted in communities that suffer from poverty and blight.
Tom and his team are like the Navy Seals of social workers as they have moved in to the neighborhood and have found success transforming or rebuilding from the inside out listening to locals and staying in tune with the heartbeat of this storied town.
Oh and if you call the phone number on the website, you won’t get an answering service or a secretary, you’ll hear the same voice that harmonized with the echo of buckshot the day we met. Yah…Tom will answer because he believes in dealing hope on the spot when it is needed most and putting solutions in the hands of the desperate people as soon as possible.
This “community center” seems to redefine or maybe reintroduce the idea of a village raising our children and healing our hearts. It is not often we find another non-profit that just fits so well with the heart of Destiny but we road home through the Tennessee mountains in tears as we realized how special this man and his mission really are.
The stories are endless and seem to be like something out of a novel or Hollywood blockbuster film and we can’t even begin to tell them here. So hop on the Harbours Gate Website or Facebook and show them some love. Maybe your heart will be encouraged and renewed like ours. And may we all be challenged to “bring the village back” and “let them ALL come”!
-Robyn Robertson, Director of Community Relations