Joanna Tebbs Young
CIRCLES OF COMMUNITY
This is the fifth in a series of everyday stories about everyday people in our community.
He sings, dances, acts and writes poetry. He is also an avid cyclist and a former half-Iron-man competitor and half-marathon runner. Yes, Thomas Hartigan is a busy man. He is also a loving one. Continually asking, “What can I do in the broader community?,” Thomas connects with others and helps in diverse ways. He thinks universally: “I try to genuinely feel love and empathy for most everyone.”
Growing up in Point Pleasant Beach, a small town on the New Jersey shore, Thomas says he learned early on about the workings of a connected community. Playing in the neighborhood, for example, he knew there were eyes everywhere. “Every adult was your parent, you couldn’t get away with anything!” he says.
And while this may not have made him particularly happy as a mischievous child, the lessons at play went beyond his street: “Everyone I knew had something to do with helping the community.” Including his parents. “They were very involved,” Thomas says of his father, who was a volunteer basketball and baseball coach and football announcer at the tiny local high school, and his mother, who worked in the school and, along with his dad, was a member of the PTA and booster clubs.
It’s probably no surprise then that Thomas would himself gravitate towards a helping profession as an adult. After starting college but returning home after his second year to work in a local restaurant and then in construction for a number years, he eventually found his calling: Occupational Therapy (OT). Although unfamiliar with that particular vocation when he met an OT practitioner at a party, upon learning the details of the work, Thomas says from that moment on, he “became singularly focused.”
Four years later, in 1991, he graduated from Kean University in Union N.J., and, having married the year before, he and his wife moved to Vermont. While on their honeymoon, the newlyweds had visited the various locations throughout New England where Thomas had applied for jobs. Recognizing the Rutland area from having vacationed here as a great place to raise kids, when he was offered a position at RRMC in 1992, he took it. A year later, the couple set down roots in the town of Shrewsbury.
Thomas loved working with his patients and participating in the broader aspects of the organization through committee work and teaching opportunities, but soon after settling into his job and the community, he found he wanted to cast a wider net, to help others beyond the walls of the hospital. So, when the Rutland Area Mentor Program formed around 1993, he threw his time and energy into mentoring two boys and becoming a member of the board.
In the early 2000s, by then a parent of two school-aged children, he joined the Shrewsbury school board. Also an avid outdoorsman, he became an active member of the town’s Outing Club, serving as a trustee and president. He has also trained with the Rutland County United Way, and now serves on the board of the Rutland Homeless Prevention Center.
After completing a master’s degree in administration in 2007, Thomas took on the role of director of rehab services at the hospital, a job he held until last year, when he returned to working directly with patients. “Working [in Rutland] for a minimum of 40 hours a week for so many years,” Thomas explains, “you connect to so many families, even generations of those families. You get to know a lot of people. You can’t help but be connected. It’s pretty awesome to have someone come say ‘hi’ and give you a hug.”
It’s direct connections such as these that make Thomas bubble with the loving, positive energy that he brings to all he does, including his acting endeavors with Marble Valley Players, The Lost Marbles Comedy Improv, and Vermont Actor’s Repertory Theatre. “It’s for the fun of performing,” he says.
And then there’s Dancing with the Rutland Stars (DWTRS). Partnering with Sheila Mccutcheon last year, his stint in the United Way fundraiser was, he admits, his “biggest [physical] stretch.” (This coming from the same guy who biked 1,500 miles last year in part to raise funds for Vermont Adaptive Sports!) But his involvement in this event has initiated other collaborations with some of the DWTRS participants, such as singing with groups for the recent “Newly”wed Game which supported the Community Cupboard, BROC Food Shelf and Salvation Army, and the upcoming Lip Sync benefit for Wonderfeet Museum.
“This is a way I can contribute a little more to help bring in funding by keeping the energy up,” Thomas explains about singing in such groups. “The event needs to be fun and exciting and say: ‘this is a worthwhile organization.’”
In fact, singing may be Thomas’ favorite way to make a difference in the world — and to himself. “I always sang as a child,” he says. “Music is good for the heart and soul, it fills the heart with love and joy.”
A member since 2013 of House Blend, a democratically run, socially conscious a capella group based out of Saxtons River, Thomas has participated in multiple benefit concerts, including one recently in support of Black Lives Matter VT and The Root Social Justice Center.
“Singing creates a connection to humanity,” Thomas says. “It takes you out of you.”
And for this and many other aspects of his life, he is thankful — publicly. As well as the short poems he calls “Poetwittery” which he posts daily on social media, he lists the things for which he is grateful. “It helps me connect to the good, the positive, the opportunities that have been afforded me, and with what’s good with humanity,” Thomas says of this focus on thankfulness. But above all, Thomas believes, it helps connect him to “more love.”
Joanna Tebbs Young is a transformative writing facilitator and freelance writer living in Rutland. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.