Tom Jones remembers the moment he hung up the phone; he had made a big mistake — a big one.
The mistake was turning down an opportunity to apply to be the executive director of the Christian Men's Job Corps. This new organization was being started in Kerrville to help men transition from incarceration to employment.
Bill Blackburn and Dave Weekley asked Jones to consider applying for the position, and he turned them down.
"I'm thickheaded," Jones said. "I called them back and I said let's do this."
That was in 2005, and Jones has been leading the effort to help men make the difficult, if not excruciating, transition from being incarcerated to productive members of our community. He's doing the work in a community he deeply loves. Once he committed to interviewing, Jones said he believed he was doing what God wanted him to do.
"Dave called me back and said, 'when you came into that interview, you were extremely confident," Jones recalled. "He said, we are calling you to be the director. He said, but I need to ask you why you're so confident, and I said, well, it's pretty simple. I prayed about it. God told me to come over and do this, and the rest is on y'all."
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Jones dug into his work with the backing of the ministry's first board of directors of Weekley, Blackburn, Mike Lowe, Nick Ramos, Pat Patillo, Andy Sanchez, John Miller and Ken O'Neal. Since that time, more than 300 men have graduated from the program. Many of them have been appointed through the courts to attend.
The program offers men classes in business, life skills parenting and the bible.
During a Dec. 2 fundraising event at St. Peters's Episcopal Church, the power of the program shone through when graduate Marcus Duarte, who now works at the Hunt Store, tearfully thanked 216th District Attorney Lucy Wilke for the opportunity to go into the program.
Savaged by low self-esteem and drugs, Duarte faced another stint in prison before being placed into the program. Now, he's a valued employee, reconnected with his children and has strong support from his pastor and faith community.
These types of stories are common for Jones and his volunteers.
As he mentioned, Jones faces his thickheadedness, but he's also not afraid to walk back when he knows he's wrong. Initially, the program was voluntary, and Jones didn't want to take men mandated by the courts.
"We don't think they can learn if they're being forced," Jones said.
However, once again, Jones said it was God that intervened.
"I had served for 15 years as the chaplain for Kerr County Sheriff and I was seeing a real need there that wasn't being met," Jones explained. "A little over three years ago, I met with the judges and all the DA's and everybody, and just presented this option."
In turn, Jones's admission that the program needed those men has helped further the job corps' work. It was the story of men like Duarte.
"I had tears in my eyes, and I'm not emotional," Jones said of Duarte's powerful thank you to law enforcement.
However, it's the kind of story that Jones will never tire of hearing because he understands the work being done is for the right reason and purpose.