Linda Jones and Thumbs Up Inc. tutors and feeds kids in need

January 12, 2010 

For 20 years, Linda Jones turned her dream into a reality. Now in retirement, she continues to live that dream — and brings smiles and education to local elementary students every day that she does.

Since retiring to Beaufort in 2006, Jones, 65, has volunteered for Thumbs Up Inc., a local nonprofit organization that provides tutoring and hot meals to elementary students who cannot receive that needed support from home. For the former teacher, Thumbs Up has been the perfect transition into her life after work.

Serving as co-chair for Thumbs Up’s board of directors and tutoring once a week, Jones loves her newest chance to connect with children.

“It is an opportunity to show kids how much we value education and how much we want them to get a good one,” Jones said. “They have everything they need. They just have to recognize that and make the choice to use it.”

Epiphany

Jones grew up outside of Rochester, N.Y., a far cry from her eventual retirement destination.

“I never had a Halloween costume or an Easter outfit that didn’t involve a winter coat,” said Jones.

After earning an undergraduate degree in English Literature from William Smith College in New York, Jones spent two years in the Philippines with the Peace Corps, instructing others on how to teach English as a second language. The experience opened her eyes, as she lived without electricity and communicated with locals in their native language, which had no written version and was only spoken.

Upon returning to America, Jones received a graduate degree in English Literature from Trinity College in Connecticut, briefly taught at Trinity and then worked for 10 years at Aetna as manager of corporate communications.

But one night changed her life dramatically. She dreamt of teaching young students.

“I woke up feeling extremely happy,” said Jones. “(The feeling came from) being in a group of small children and feeling that love and support.”

Instead of ignoring or dismissing the dream, Jones took it as a sign to make a change and a goal to pursue.

Jones set out to discover her new dream-inspired career. She concocted an independent study through Saint Joseph College in Connecticut, in which she visited a different elementary school every day for six weeks to make sure it was the career for her.

She then earned a graduate degree in elementary education from Saint Joseph and taught for 20 years at Lake Garda Elementary School in Burlington, Conn.

Jones and her husband of 21 years, George, came to Beaufort while in search of their retirement destination. Looking for a coastal area, one trip to the Lowcountry was all they needed.

“We both just looked at each other and said, ‘This is it,’” said Jones of their first drive into Beaufort.

Vision

That moment of clarity was also how Jones came to volunteering for Thumbs Up. Originally recruited, after living in Beaufort for six months, by fellow tutor Carolyn LaTulip, Jones wondered if it was too soon to return to working with children. That concern quickly vanished.

“I don’t have to worry about making a paycheck,” said Jones. “I can just enjoy working with the kids.”

Thumbs Up has served Beaufort’s youth for 14 years since its founding by Sister Mary Trzasko. This year it provides after-school tutoring and meals to 16 elementary students.

All the students are fully capable mentally and physically but cannot receive necessary support from home for a variety of reasons, such as parents who work at night.

The students are bused directly from school to Thumbs Up’s new location — a renovated one-story house on Hamar Street, near the Charles Lind Brown Center — where they are greeted by Jones and other tutors.

“When they come in the door, we have apples and oranges on the counter,” said Jones. “It’s just like home. They come in and hug us.”

For the next two hours, students and tutors, such as Jones, cover math, science, history and more. The students work with tutors individually and prosper in the relaxed environment that includes newly painted green and blue walls, computers and comfortable desks.

Then, it’s dinner time, as a fresh meal is prepared in the full kitchen. The program originally was housed in the Boys & Girls Club on Boundary Street, but the move to the house on Hamar Street house allows dinner to be prepared on site — and with the help of the students.

As co-chair, Jones was instrumental in the acquisition and move to the house. Though the number of students in the program typically remains steady, help is constantly sought.

“We’re always in need of money, we’re always in need of volunteers, we’re always in need of cooks,” said Jones.

Yet for all of her laboring on the business side, it’s those few hours every Tuesday afternoon that brings the biggest smile to her face.

Said Jones: “This is absolutely as wonderful as I could’ve imagined.”

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