Terence K. McAteer: A retiree who locally changes lives for at-risk youth
Many people retire to Nevada County for the life of leisure; not Tom Cross.
Tom, a former Vice President of AT&T and PacBell who oversaw Northern California telephone operations, found a beautiful retirement home in Lake Wildwood and his peers thought he’d focus on lowering his golf handicap. Nope. Tom focused on at-risk youth.
At 55, Tom scrapped the work world and followed his passion — helping others by giving back. That was over 20 years ago and he’s still going strong. Two years ago, Tom was asked by a county department head to be the only public member on the Continuum of Care, a collaborative of local governmental and nonprofits working to help solve the homeless issue. Tom realized everyone was talking about helping adults who were homeless and no one at the table was dealing with the 125 or so homeless teens attending our local high schools.
Much to the amazement of many, a number of our teens are “couch surfing” at someone else’s home, garage or attic because of some economic, social or behavioral issues at home. Tom felt that if this issue was not addressed these teens would become high school dropouts and our next crop of adult homeless in the county.
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“I felt that if we didn’t address this issue head-on these youth would just feed the homeless pipeline,” says Tom.
Tom knows what he’s talking about; his years in retirement have seen him serving as a Big Brother to three youth, whom he remains in touch with. All three are now successful adults. He still works with two youth involved in the juvenile delinquency system through the Court Appointed Special Advocate Program providing them mentoring and tough love. Tom has served on the Board of Directors of United Way of Nevada County and Sierra Nevada Children Services but his latest passion, homeless teens, is taking traction.
Over the past two years, Tom has visited every local governmental agency and nonprofit that work with youth to discuss the homeless issue, seeking help and leadership on this topic. He eventually found a receptive ear in Jennifer Litton-Singer, Executive Director of the Friendship Club. The Friendship Club annually serves dozens of at-risk girls in middle and high school who need social mentoring and academic assistance. Her nonprofit’s track record is amazing but it had never served boys, who make up the vast majority of homeless teens.
In order to prove the viability of the program, Tom went out and raised $40,000 in private donations and then steered $100,000 from a federal homeless grant toward the teen problem. He helped create a link between Litton-Singer, the high school superintendent Brett McFadden and the local Sierra College Dean, Stephanie Ortiz and, collectively, this serious community issue is being addressed.
The Friendship Club is now working with 15-20 homeless teens (a majority of them boys) providing them daily in-school and out of school assistance. In addition, counseling and guidance is steering these students toward a two-year career track vocational educational certificate program at our Sierra College Campus, eventually assisting them in job placement. The three-year financial grant will allow The Friendship Club to add an additional 15-20 homeless teens in 2020 with another group the following year.
Tom begs away from any credit but it goes to show that one person can make a difference. With perseverance and always a goal in mind, Tom Cross is helping to solve our homeless teen problem, one student at a time. He is a role model for us retirees.
I know there are many other Tom Cross’ in this community who will be inspired by Tom’s actions who may also find their passion which can help to make a difference in our community.
Terry McAteer is a member of The Union Editorial Board. His views are his own and do not represent the views of The Union or its editorial board members. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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