Thomasville Times Enterprise

April 1, 2014

Sparked by father’s advice, Thomas overcomes obstacles, gives back to others

Staff report

THOMASVILLE — Not long before he died unexpectedly in 2001, Curtis Thomas gave his son, Keith Thomas, a bit of advice. He told him to get an education. At the time, Thomas begrudgingly told his father he would, not knowing it would be their last conversation.

A 1975 graduate of Thomasville High School, Thomas chose not to further his education even though his father encouraged him to do so. Instead, Thomas worked as a health services technician in the substance abuse area at Southwestern State Hospital. He enjoyed helping patients recover from alcohol and drug abuse.

“I always wanted to make a career out of that,” he said.

But his life took a different turn. In his 30s, Thomas began abusing alcohol and drugs. He saw it as a way of rebelling against his father and fitting in with his friends. Realizing the damage substance abuse caused his family, Thomas choose to give up the bad habit and replace it with better ones.

He coached youth league baseball and football teams comprised of players from mostly low-income families. In 2003, Thomas co-founded the Thomasville Traveling All-Stars football team.

He held several jobs over the years. In 2000, he joined TECT Power, a Thomasville company that makes parts for airplane engines. There, Thomas inspected blades before shipping. It was a meticulous job.

“If there was even a crack in a blade, a plane could crash,” Thomas said.

He enjoyed his job and stayed there until 2006, when back surgery took him out of commission. The next year ,Thomas survived two automobile accidents, with one leaving him with limited use of his right hand.

Thomas was watching television one day when he saw a commercial about earning a college degree. At that point, he’d been through a lot. A past filled with substance abuse and a list of mistakes.

Remembering his father’s last words to him, Thomas decided it was time to take his life back. He began by going to the gym and strengthening his body. He also enrolled as a student at Thomas University.

It had been three decades since he graduated from high school. A lot had changed since that time, and Thomas found that he needed help, especially with math. That’s when he went to Student Support Services (SSS) at TU. Not only did he find help with math, but he also found encouragement that improved his self-confidence.

“Thanks to all the help and support from SSS, I would not be where I am,” Thomas said.

With their father setting the example, two of Thomas’ four children followed his lead and enrolled at Thomas University.

When it came time to choose a major, Thomas wasn’t sure which major suited him. After a conversation with Bill Milford, chairman of the Division of Social Work, Thomas realized he wanted to major in social work. His efforts within the major did not go unnoticed.

In 2013, he was recognized as the TU Social Work Student of the Year and as the 2013 National Association of Social Workers South Georgia Unit Social Work Student of the Year. Thomas received the NASW awards during a conference in Valdosta.

“That was one of the proudest moments in my life,” he said.

In May 2013, Thomas fulfilled his promise to his father. He graduated with the bachelor of social work degree from Thomas University. Even though he reached that goal, Thomas isn’t stopping. He fills his days by mentoring youth at First Missionary Baptist Church, where he’s a member. Thomas is often asked to speak to groups about his experiences and triumph over substance abuse.

In the future, Thomas hopes to work in a position helping others overcome substance abuse. To prepare for that career, he’s enrolled in the Master of Science Degree in Rehabilitation Counseling program at Thomas University. In the degree program, he’s chosen the substance abuse concentration.

Thomas uses his life experiences to help others going through the same situations.

“It’s not where you’ve been; it’s where you’re headed,” Thomas said.