By JAYNE THURBER-SMITH
It’s better to give than to receive is more than a cliché to Tom Dana.
“Trying to help those in need gives you such a warm feeling,” he says, his face lighting up in agreement. “I get much more out of it than I put into it. I feel so fortunate to be able to work with groups who help others.”
Dana, Vice President with Thalhimer Real Estate, lives in the Kemp Woods area of Chesapeake, but has so much on the go he spends little time sitting around his house. He has been an active member of the Chesapeake Rotary Club for twenty-three years, and through his club he discovered Orphan Helpers. Since 2005 Dana has been working closely with founders Greg Garrett and wife Libby Garrett out of Newport News. Their organization assists with fourteen various orphanages and detention centers in both El Salvador and Honduras. This year Orphan Helpers will be giving $50,000 to the orphanages in San Salvador.
“We plan to buy a van to transport kids and volunteers, and set up two computer labs in San Salvador,” he says. “Our Chesapeake Rotary is the sponsoring club and the host club we partner with is in San Salvador. We also partner with the Great Bridge and Newport News Rotary clubs here. Within a year we all got a certain amount of donations together, Greg made a personal contribution, and we donated it to the Rotary Foundation. The Rotary District also contributed money and then the Foundation matched that to give us the grand total of $50,000.”
Remember that soggy Saturday the end of October that announced the arrival of Hurricane Sandy? Sandy couldn’t keep the more than 7,000 loyal attendees from contributing to the Chesapeake Virginia Wine Festival, the largest fund raising activity held by the Chesapeake Rotary Club. This was their third year and they raised a total of $150,000. The monies went to various charities including Orphan Helpers.
“All the Rotarians come together for that,” says Dana. “The community is so supportive and a lot of local businesses contributed. I just play a small part. The great thing about Rotary is we have over 90 members and everyone pitches in. It’s a great team effort.”
Charity begins at home and Dana is very passionate about Chesapeake Rotary’s local efforts like “Paint Your Heart Out,” which offers painting services to the homes of the elderly who don’t have the money to upkeep their exteriors. He’s also been on the board of the Greenbrier YMCA since 1993 and serves as Vice President on the board of Chesapeake Service Systems.
“Chesapeake Service is doing a tremendous job assisting the mentally disabled,” Dana comments, his face lighting up. “When I saw how excited these adults were about having a job, being gainfully employed to wash and fold laundry, or to pick up trash along the highways, I was happy to be a part of that. We’ve seen people get out there who don’t even speak… once they start working, the transition is amazing. They feel useful doing various jobs. You see how positively their work affects their lives.”
Dana is looking forward to his next trip to San Salvador within the next two months and seeing the positive effect Orphan Helpers’ generous donation will be able to make for the orphans. This will be his ninth visit to Central America, and Dana encourages anyone who has the opportunity to take a mission trip or vision trip to an underprivileged country to do so. That’s all it takes to make you want to do whatever you can to make a difference.
“The moment I picked up one of those little orphans I was hooked,” he says. “Greg had visited our club in 2004 and talked about Orphan Helpers, saying if we wanted to get involved we should go see what they do. So we went and toured the facilities. These little kids just want a hug, some attention. You see their living conditions and you just need to do something about it. Orphan Helpers is definitely making improvements for them. We’ve also been able to put a few teachers in place. Seeing how much the kids appreciate it makes it all worthwhile.”
Donations can be made at http://www.orphanhelpers.org and they thank you for whatever support you can offer!
Congratulations Tom Dana on being named Citizen of the Month. We appreciate your dedication to public service. The city of Chesapeake is incredibly fortunate to have you as a leader in our community.
The Citizen welcomes your recommendations for Citizen of the Month. Help us recognize and honor outstanding community leaders who are making a difference in our city—and the world. Email your nominations to : firstname.lastname@example.org.