Meet Your Hosts: Rising Leader Jim Thompson
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I believe that none of us are home until all of us are home. Yet for many of us, myself included, true appreciation for how fortunate we are to have a home is often overlooked or taken for granted. I am married with two young children, our home in suburban Philadelphia has three bedrooms and a patch of grass in the backyard, and in the fall of 2019, I lost my job.
For the past 13 years I had been a baseball scout, traveling the country, finding diamonds in the rough, which as I quickly found out qualified me for absolutely nothing. Three months later a global pandemic brought the economy to a halt. Six months later and still unemployed, anticipation turned to anxiety and uncertainty morphed into fear as businesses shuttered windows, jettisoned employees, and any lingering prospects for employment vanished. And that is when Project HOME came into my life.
Joan and Sister Mary showed faith in me when others had doubted, believed I could make an impact on the organization and the community and offered me an opportunity to join the Project HOME family. As COVID forced other organizations to shrink, Project HOME grew. I witnessed firsthand the urgency in expanding initiatives across the city to reach and assist as many people as possible. The hours, work, and effort everyone in the organization put forth during those crucial months allowed us to continue serving our community by providing the care and shelter desperately needed.
Although my time with Project HOME was brief, it was truly life changing. My colleagues’ passion was inspirational. The belief in each individual’s right to dignity and that no one is less-than is profound and resonates. These are my values, my family’s values, and those which we intend to impart on our children. And that is why I am a Rising Leader.
While my personal situation was not unlike millions of others during the early day of the pandemic, it is not lost on me that our overall family situation was starkly different. My wife’s career is established, stable, and she alone was able to support our family. Our children experienced no tangible change in circumstances. The sacrifices we made were impactful but minimal in the broader picture. We were never in danger of losing our home, going hungry, being without, or making an either-or decision which could have been devastating.
Some will tell you that hard work, grit, and desire form the path to success, and that everyone can change their situation if they would simply put their mind to it. That could not be further from the truth. Reflecting on those months, I realize that our ability to weather this storm was the culmination of all the random events and choices in our lives where the toss of the coin or the roll of the die landed in our favor. We grew up in neighborhoods with access to education, attended highly ranked colleges, and both have MBAs. Our parents are nearby and able to provide support. Our education and safety nets allowed us to take chances, which turned into opportunities, which in turn led to better opportunities. Yet through my experience, I acquired the humility to realize that small deviations at any point in my past could have led to drastically different outcomes.
On any given night over 500,000 people in the United States experience homelessness. Unemployment currently stands at six percent and it is estimated that 4 percent of the population is battling substance-use disorder. Probability is blind and doesn’t chose which of us land in those buckets. I spent six months as a statistic. Luckily, fate only chose me, and our family had the supporting infrastructure to withstand this challenge.
Many of us, however, are not as fortunate. People experience homelessness for many reasons, with homelessness being the result rather than the cause of one’s circumstances. The scarcity of affordable housing, here in Philadelphia and nationally, is real. The work of Project HOME in providing access to education, employment, and healthcare has tangible impacts on the underlying causes of homelessness. Ending the cycle of poverty and homelessness enhances the lives of everyone in the community. Each of us carry the responsibility to create a more just and compassionate society. That is why I serve Project HOME.
Interested in learning more about the Rising Leaders Committee? Click here for more on the committee and how to get involved.