February 08, 2013
|Elie Canter and
Jordan Thomas ’13 get fitted at the Prosthetic
& Orthotic Associates center in Orlando. (Photo by Scott Cook)
When he was 16, Jordan Thomas’s ’13 legs got
caught in the boat’s propeller during his family’s annual boating trip to the Florida Keys. He would spend the next several weeks in a hospital, undergoing
several surgeries and being fitted for new prosthetics for both of his legs. It
was here that Thomas would discover his life’s work. Around him were other
children in a similar situation, but whose families would never be able to
afford the pricy prosthetics that would allow them to walk again. As a result,
he started the Jordan Thomas Foundation, which provides children affected by
limb loss with the prostheses they need throughout childhood and adolescence,
and serves as a caring resource, advocate and support system for these children
and their families.
Since that time, Thomas and a large group of volunteers have raised nearly $1 million—exceeding his original goal of $500,000. They now assist seven children with prostheses along with a commitment to provide for them through the age of 18, an endeavor that requires at least $80,000-$100,000 per child.
An international business major with a minor in Spanish, Thomas continues to actively preside over his foundation, stay in touch with each beneficiary, and spearhead the annual fundraising golf tournament and low country boil dinner event. He has been awarded the National Courage Award, the International Youth in Philanthropy Award, and was named one of CNN's Top Ten Heroes for 2009. Jordan continues to speak, educate, and advocate for inclusion and for coverage of prosthetics in healthcare, and mentors other children and families of traumatic injury.
(Photo by Scott Cook)
makes you get up each day?
The look on one of our recipient’s faces when he or she walks for the first time, and what we have done to make a difference in each of their lives. You can't help but want to get up, put your legs on, and get with it. While it hasn't been easy, and I wouldn't want to make anyone think that it is, I try not to dwell on self-pity but instead realize that this is the work that I was meant to do and I can do it.
How do you start a foundation?
We get asked this question all the time. It takes a lot of work up front and from then on. You not only have to do the legal work but you also have to make sure that you will have the donor base to support your cause. Then you have to get a board together, work on a mission, have fundraisers, and grow the foundation. We have made remarkable progress, but only because of all the people who have come along beside us and given us their expertise and coached us along the way. We have very generous friends and volunteers who continue to give blood, sweat, tears, time, and money to keep us going. I can't say enough good things about them. And then, having a good director is crucial. When we hired our first director, I was 20 years old, but I knew who I wanted, and I made the ask. We work together closely, and she covers a lot of bases for me while I am in school. Together, we have grown the Foundation in so many ways. I am really excited about what we are doing.
How do you bring ideas to life?
I see things that I think need fixing, as with our work in Haiti. As soon as the earthquake hit, we received emails from around the world asking us to go help children in Haiti. Our board discussed it. We knew of a rehab clinic that was still standing, and a board member knew the director. Initially, we doubled the size of the lab and lab equipment so that they could meet the demand, and we continue to raise money for Red Cross-approved prosthesis kits that are used there.
As an entrepreneur, what is the one thing you do over and over and recommend everyone else do?
Look at the big picture, but still do a great job at handling all the details. How you interact with a donor on even the smallest level really makes a difference. I also realize that we must be growing up as an organization, that we will go through life cycles, and that there is more for us to do. We are constantly reassessing where we are as an organization, and what we should be doing. I have a great board of 12 active members who are well-respected in their professional fields and they all contribute in so many ways to make this foundation viable, accountable, and worthy of donations—in addition to overseeing the care of each of our recipients.
What is the biggest difficulty you face as an entrepreneur?
I guess I’d have to say balancing school and directing a foundation, and prioritizing the demands that the public can put on you and your time. I am limited to meeting at the requests that I would like to since I am a full-time student. Sometimes, if I take a TV request in the middle of a school week, it is difficult to shift gears and be 150 percent on task for the Foundation.
What is one business idea that you’re willing to give away?
Be accountable to your donors whether they ask you to or not. That means being specific in how you have used their funds, tailoring each accountability letter just to them. Do it in writing. We do this at the Foundation about 3-4 times a year and it makes an impact. Plus, it shows good stewardship and transparency, which are really needed with nonprofits. Think of the nonprofits you have given to and how they treated you. We want to be the best we can be to our donors who make this all possible for the children who we are serving. It also helps if you have an experienced director who can guide you through all the details that need to happen to make your foundation fulfill its mission and stand out from the others.
If you could change one thing in the world, what would it be and how would you go about it?
I would, and have, go to Washington to change the way we provide for children who need prostheses. They need to be able to get them as often as necessary due to growth. It makes all the difference in their lives, and the difference between living in a wheel chair and being active and happy. We can do this. Our health care system can do this if we make it. No child should go without prostheses because they cannot afford them. Ever.
What was the worst job you ever had, and what did you learn from it?
I was a driving range attendant at a golf club in South Florida and it was horrible. Members treated me like dirt. I learned that regardless of someone’s socioeconomic background, race, creed, or religion, everyone deserves to be treated with respect and dignity. Everyone.
Who is your hero, and why?
Muhammad Yunus, the greatest social entrepreneur of all time. He’s changed the world. He will go down as one of the greatest humanitarians who’s ever lived. I admire that.
When was the last time you laughed out loud? What caused it?
I couldn’t tell you the last day I had when I didn’t laugh out loud. Today was particularly amusing though because I played a game of pick-up basketball. Needless to say the look on people’s faces when they see what a kid with no legs can do—they’re thrown a tad off guard.
If you were to start again, what would you do differently?
People ask me all the time if I would change anything, and you know, I really wouldn’t. The opportunities that I now have to make a difference to children who need prostheses is incredible.
By Laura J. Cole
Office of Marketing & Communications
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