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Giving back and growing roots

In addition to his work at the River Center, Tom is Nubi's snow man

Tom moved to Nubi during a period when he was experiencing some of the top stressors of contemporary life: divorce from his wife of 16 years, closing his business, single parenthood, relocating from another state, etc. “In Nubi I recognized a place where I would find instant community of the sort that is caring and supportive, not invasive,” says Tom.

With Nubi as a base, he began to expand his support network into the greater community. “I first got involved at the River Center because one of our neighbors handed me a brochure advertising a single parents support group.”

“After I was part of the support group for a while, they approached me to be on the board of trustees, recognizing me as an active person who enjoys being part of the community,” says Tom. In January of 2012, Tom joined the River Center board as a community member. He was elected to the Vice Chair position after 6-months and now, some 16 months later, Tom is chair of the River Center’s Board of Trustees.

Volunteering and giving back to his community had been important parts of Tom’s life growing up, and the crisis in his adult life allowed him to reconnect with these values.

“Throughout my childhood my mom was always very active in a volunteer capacity, mostly around environmental causes. Her dedication to a cause made a huge impression on me,” says Tom. A founder of the Friends of Crystal River organization with the mission to prevent development of the Crystal River in Northern Michigan, his mother engaged in a 20-year battle to incorporate the pristine waterway into the existing Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. In October of 2005, after an act of Congress, the Crystal River was finally protected from development.

Tom values Peterborough’s River Center for its wide variety of programs, from free tax preparation (participants saved a combined $1.3 million in 2012), career counseling, a wood bank, to parenting support groups and parenting classes. “The River Center is such an amazingly important resource for this small community, and it is so under-utilized and under-realized,” says Tom.

One challenge for the River Center is a perception that it serves just a specific segment of the population. “There is this societal pressure that if you are perceived to have challenges in your life then there is something wrong with you, that you’ve failed,” explains Tom. “The truth is, that the River Center’s programs are open to anyone, but you have to be willing to get out of your own way.”

The other great challenge of the River Center is raising enough funds to support its programs. “We are seeing greater and greater demand, yet are challenged daily to afford it,” says Tom. “Our primary financial support comes from the United Way, grants and fundraisers. We receive only $7,000 in federal funding for the year.”

Nubi has a number of ties to the River Center, including the Farm-to-Table program, which provides fresh local food to families and offers instruction on how to prepare and enjoy it. Our farmer and neighbor, Todd, also works with the River Center for the Children and the Arts Day food stand.

The River Center is establishing some new programs this year, including a support group for children of divorced parents, and a free summer film festival to be held outdoors in local towns.

Excited by the potential the River Center has to strengthen the community, Tom reflects, “The balance of living here and working there feeds my soul.”

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