Auburn businessman fires up barbecue for local homeless

By: Kirsten Read Journal Correspondent
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Longtime Auburn resident and businessman Thomas Jackson feels it’s important to give back. That’s why he recently started cooking up food and fellowship with those who need a little extra help. Jackson of TJ Enterprises and the Auburn Gold Country Rotary Club hosted his third monthly barbecue to feed the homeless and mentally disabled. It was held at the Auburn Welcome Center. About 100 homeless people have been served at each of the three barbecues, he said, The Welcome Center is a community-based drop-in resources and wellness facility established to increase the development and growth of the individual, create a positive, supportive, safe environment for the community and educate the community in hopes of eliminating the stigma surrounding mental illness, substance abuse, and homelessness. “The Welcome Center is a peer-run program to support recovery. We create activities that speak to them in terms of doing what they want to do. There seems to be a lot of enthusiasm for supporting that creative side of people and building community so they are more connected,” said Maureen Bauman, director of Adult System of Care. Jackson, whose auto repair shop, TJ Enterprises, has been in Auburn for 21 years, is a former president of the Auburn Gold Country Rotary Club. TJ Enterprises donates the money for hot dogs, hamburgers, cookies, fruit and utensils for the monthly barbecues. Jackson donates his time to obtain the food and run the event with the help of his supporters, he said. Jackson used to put on similar barbecues in Sacramento at Loaves and Fishes for two years, but contacted the Welcome Center after making the decision to shift his efforts to helping the homeless in Auburn. “Being that I make my living here, I thought I’d support the people that support me,” Jackson said. “I notice more and more the people in Auburn that need help, and I want to put myself in a position to help them.” Jackson said he is thankful for the success the barbecue has had in the past couple of months, and is excited to continue to see the enterprise grow in the future. “It’s been very successful,” Jackson said. “Anytime you feed 80-100 people, it’s always rewarding. The first time I did it, I didn’t realize how much it meant to The Welcome Center, and then they contacted me to help them out again. And with all of the service organizations coming out to help, it’s going to get larger and larger every month.” Jackson’s favorite part of putting on the barbecues is the smiles on people’s faces, and the sense that they are truly grateful. “The thing about Auburn is every person who picks up a meal says, ‘thank you,’ and it comes from their heart,” Jackson said. “It’s a blessing that we can get together and do this for the community.” A little help from his friends Jackson has not been alone in his pursuit of aiding the homeless. Bart Ruud, a member of Auburn Rotary and Auburn Community Cancer Endowment Fund, is helping Jackson collect and cook the food. “Auburn is full of community-minded people, and TJ especially has a great deal of compassion for his fellow man and woman,” Ruud said. Ollie Macintosh, a member of the Gold Country Rotary Club for 23 years, is also assisting and he said he feels that “giving back to the community and the world, and helping people less fortunate then you” is the reason why it is so worthwhile to volunteer his time. Talent showcase The barbecue was accompanied by an open mic talent show. Among the participants was Ceris Wainwright who has been playing guitar, singing and writing her own songs for about 30 years, but only started taking guitar lessons about a month ago. “I still learn all the time,” Wainwright said. She has been in Auburn for about six years since escaping Hurricane Katrina. The Welcome Center helped Wainwright get off the street by encouraging her to pursue and showcase her musical interests. Since coming to Auburn, Wainwright has independently released a jazz and blues CD entitled “Swamp Tour.” “The (Welcome Center) helped me out so I could live a bit,” Wainwright said. “Now I’m able to give back a little; this is my way of showing appreciation.” Wainwright has lived in an apartment that the Welcome Center’s housing program helped her attain for nearly two years. She said she plans to return to New Orleans in December to pursue her music career, but will miss her experience in Auburn and the warm friendship the Welcome Center has provided her. “I love Auburn. I’ve made so many friends here,” Wainwright said. Another participant at the Welcome Center who has found himself through expressing his art is Jeff Jackson. Jeff Jackson was initially homeless when he arrived in Auburn about six years ago. He started visiting the Welcome Center about two years ago, where he was encouraged to pursue his artistic talents. “This place does a lot more than provide us with resources,”Jeff Jackson said. “They inspire creativity. When you’re homeless, you forget things, and you’re not as motivated, but with the encouragement and honesty of the Welcome Center that is hard to find elsewhere, you remember that you’re worth it. They see something special in everyone. Some of us have more off days than others. It doesn’t make us different, it just makes us human.” Jeff Jackson’s art will be featured at the Auburn Art Walk on Aug 11 from 6-9 p.m., along with the work of several other members of the Welcome Center’s art group, “Pathways to Wellness.” Joanne Nashlund, a peer advocate of the Welcome Center and mental health consumer who was homeless at one point, has personally experienced the success of the center and now hopes to help others achieve their goals. “I’ve turned my life around, and I want to help others to do the same,” Nashlund said. Thomas Jackson said he helps because he truly cares about people. “Not everybody is homeless because of the choices they have made,” Jackson said. “Everyone has their own burdens to bear, and the struggles in their lives have caused them to be homeless. When you give from your heart, you can’t tell who is good and who is bad. Just give of yourself.”