We would love to formally introduce Tom to our community and talk about all the amazing things he has been working on.
How would you quickly describe who you are and what you are working on/responsible for?
My name is Tom Jones, I am 34 years old. I am a combat Veteran of the 101st Airborne Division “Air Assault” I served two tours to Iraq. 2003-2004, 2005-2006. Today I am the Project Coordinator of Michigan Operation Freedom Outdoors, which is a collaborative of affiliates that strive to reintegrate disabled Veterans and others with health challenges back into nature. The State of Michigan DNR being my biggest partner, allows me to have access to public land across the state. I host many events, and am proud of what I am able to still provide on this great mission. I fought for my fellow service members to get inside the wire everyday for two years, but I also fought for everyone in this country. I can not begin to tell you how rewarding it is to be there witness to someone's first trip back to nature. With the amenities I have, it really breaks down barriers. I have Action Track Chairs and accessible blinds around the 4,600 Sharonville state game area.
What has sparked your passion? What made you get started doing what you're doing now?When I first got out of the Service I was searching for my next mission. I worked a couple jobs before finding a management role with Coca-Cola. I was performing great, but something was missing. It wasn't until I was having troubles, that I reached out to a local brain injury specialist in Michigan, who put me in touch with the Eisenhower Centers After the Impact program. Here I was able to decompress and have the reintegration that was not offered when I returned from war. Through this program I was able to come to many realizations on habits that I had made throughout my journey of advocating on my own. The ATI program changed my life.
Did you have any obstacles at the beginning?
I had many obstacles when I first returned that followed me around for over 6 years. From trash on the side of the road, having a misdiagnosed Brain injury from an I.E.D blast that knocked me out in2006. The not knowing, and the feeling of fight or flight kicking in constantly was hard to deal with. Was anything holding you back before getting started? The only thing holding me back, that I later realized, was myself.
How did you overcome these obstacles?
I overcame these obstacles by forcing myself into situations that I was not comfortable with. I did this time and time again, saying yes to everything I could, to make new habits and to move forward with the mission at hand. Which is helping as many people I can. I hosted 33 individuals on the game area last year with my role as the Project Coordinator Of MI OFO, which was 79 outings where I was present for each and every single one willingly, excited, and motivated to make each outing the best for each individual.
Have you always been growing your own food?
In one way or another, I have always been this way. From serving my country, to wanting to be more self sufficient in providing for my family. I enjoy the feeling of harvesting dinner from the backyard, and I only see my lifestyle evolving making this a bigger priority in my life. I would like to start canning to have more through the winter.
Today I have introduced this type of lifestyle to my children, who grow seeds now seeds on their own, and get to see the entire process. They want a bigger garden, and barely have room for “Daddies Stuff” I am very proud that they are as motivated as they are with a more sustainable way of life.
What's your goal/vision for the future?
My goals for the future are to make MI OFO a household name. I have been pairing Veterans with the ATI program that reach out to me on our outings. Many Veterans have met my dog, and had questions in regards to obtaining a dog. I have helped pair 4 Veterans with service dogs with no cost to them. My partnership with Stiggys Dogs out of Howell Mi, has been amazing. I thank them everyday for my right hand man Baxter.
In 10 years what would you like to see happen for the things you and your team are working on? In the next ten years I would like to see MI OFO being powered by Veterans not only across the state of Michigan, but across the country. By giving Veterans a mission to keep serving, and pairing with the local wildlife offices, there is no reason why this therapeutic cause can not be replicated everywhere. We are not a non profit, but a cause.
What are some things you would like to have other people understand about living a healthier and self-sufficient life style?
I think it is important for people to realize how they treat their mind, body, and soul. Eating healthier, and just being more aware of what you are putting into your body, leads to you being aware of many other important factors in your life. If you have your health you are a rich person. Quality of life comes easier if you treat your temple with respect.
What tips and tricks could you share with other people?
As a combat Veteran that has went through many struggles along the way, I would encourage people to jump off the porch and take that chance. Go for whatever it is that you are passionate about. Whatever it may be. Do not let it pass you by because you were reluctant to chase it down. If you succeed in this, you will never have to work a day in your life.
Have you ever made mistakes or failed at doing something?
I have made plenty of mistakes. Finding out how to get through them and keep marching forward has been the focus. After seeing some success and taping back into my leadership role, provides the the opportunity for purpose, selfless service, amongst all the values I hold close.
Have you ever dealt with a person who disregards your life style?
I have dealt with many people that have had problems with my lifestyle. From locals that don't understand our mission at first glance. They look at it as MI OFO taking over their public lands, which could not be more untrue. The only individual I had a problem with last year ended up coming out to the barn for coffee, hearing about my mission, then offering up his private 40 acres for me to take individuals on as well.
What are some of your greatest rewards with a lifestyle such as the one you now live?
The greatest reward by far is my team. The people I am involved with at the Eisenhower Center are the ones who took the time to show me care when I needed it most. Now I get to play a role in the life changing opportunities they provide everyday. True hearted professionals that are dedicated to their roles in their field. I am forever in debt to them for the care and compassion they all showed me, and for giving me the opportunity to take this mike and run with Michigan Operation Freedom Outdoors.
Meet some other members of the team from the Eisenhower Center!
"When I was young my family had a small garden in the backyard but after moving to another house we kind of got away from home gardens. After I began working at the Eisenhower Center I was placed in the green house to redo the inside. I introduced aquaponics and hydroponics systems to the staff and clients and used SeedsNow as my supplier of seeds." -Patrick Kittel
Tim Dallore joined Eisenhower Center in the fall of 2013 as a Project Leader, bringing many years of organizational development skills from a regulated environment. Associate development at all levels, job and skill progression training / tracking systems, and process improvement practices are key skills that Tim will be implementing and demonstrating daily at the Manchester farm. Tim’s main area of responsibility is client skill building in the wood shop; specifically removing roadblocks that will improve the client’s abilities and progression towards more advanced tasks.
"I have been gardening with my dad as long as I can remember. Nothing compares to the taste of fresh homegrown produce! Working with the clients is by far the most rewarding part of my job. Teaching them how to grow healthy food from seed to harvest and be able to provide for themselves is an awesome feeling. -Dan Smith
"Home gardening has been a long-standing tradition in my family. My earliest memories of my grandparents are helping them take care of a home garden and enjoying the harvest at family dinners. The scale and efficacy of the Eisenhower Center aquaponics greenhouse has been a fantastic learning experience." -Mark Taylor