Meet Tom and Cheryl Charlesworth who have been enthusiastically involved with Benefits Law Center (BLC) since 2016. Tom began serving on the Fundraising Committee of BLC when it was suggested to him by a friend of Cheryl’s, and Tom believes that “an organization like BLC can help homeless people navigate Social Security and fill in the gaps that Social Security is not able to provide.” Tom has maintained his membership on the Fundraising Committee since 2016 and is also a member of the board. Both Tom and Cheryl “have stepped up to the plate” generously donating their time, talent and treasure. They can be seen at all our major events filling their table with people excited about the work of BLC. In the words of Cheryl, “I get very excited when I attend a fundraiser to see how many people fill up the room and how many people really care. I also enjoy hearing the stories of the clients. They are amazing because I know without BLC’s help, some clients would be dead or just disappear.”
Tom had previous experience working in graduate school on a homeless project through the school’s alumni association in the early 90s, so his passion for the subject fueled his desire to work as a volunteer for BLC. Since BLC provides Social Security legal advocacy to mentally and physically disabled individuals who are low income or homeless, advocating for BLC is important to Tom and Cheryl. “I think for me it makes me feel better that I am doing something about a problem in the community that I live in. Instead of just feeling frustrated, this is my way of contributing to help solve a problem in our community/country.”
Both Tom and Cheryl have a personal association with homelessness. Both of their mothers were very accomplished, but both suffered from mental illness. Tom reflects that he and his mother were on welfare for a period of time and that his mother’s disability check paid the rent. “I remember pretty well because I handled the budget and the rent was $105 and we got $160 per month for disability so we really had to stretch $55. It would have been pretty easy to be without a place to stay.”
Tom and Cheryl both recall the 2008 recession when they lost a business and times were unfortunately very tough for them. They were both able to get other jobs but ended up living in different locations for two years. With their debt repayment schedule, they were short every month. Cheryl remembered that they could not afford parking permits and buying food at Dollar Tree. Cheryl was working at Bank of America at the time doing loan modification work and short sells and witnessed first-hand so many people who had lost everything. “I swore to myself that if we every got out of debt, I would be more generous and not judgmental and I was going to help. We were in a situation 10 years ago, but we now own an apartment in Portugal (a dream come true). We are in a good position now, but I will never forget those days. I know that this can be easily taken away.”
For Tom and Cheryl, BLC volunteer work is a good way to make a difference. As Tom says, “If more people were contributing to organizations like BLC, the problem would be much better than it is.” Cheryl adds that “if someone volunteers for BLC, they will get a different perspective on their lives; especially in Seattle where there are a lot of homeless people.”
Tom and Cheryl are excited about the future of BLC. Their hope is that more people in need will begin to learn about BLC’s advocacy for low income and homeless people who are disabled. They are both impressed with the management of BLC and the tireless commitment of the Executive Director, Alex Doolittle, staff, and attorneys. Both hope that partnerships with other non-profits will increase and the relationships will become deeper. As Cheryl says, “Watching the staff interact with one another, you get the impression that they are glad to be doing what they are doing and would rather be at BLC than anywhere else!”
We extend our heartfelt thanks to Tom and Cheryl Charlesworth for sharing their personal experiences and philosophies for giving back. Both are champions for the homeless, and our community is a much better place because of their personal commitment to homeless and low income people who are disabled.
When you attend our next BLC virtual event and a future in person event (fingers crossed) say hi to Tom and Cheryl and thank them for their incredible service. Feel free to reach out to Donna Whitford at firstname.lastname@example.org if you would like to join Tom and Cheryl in service to this vital organization.