An Interview with the Founder, Tom Lewis
Q: Was there a single event or defining moment which led to the establishment of The Fishing School (TFS)?
A: Yes. I was praying and was reminded of a promise that I made to God while I was still an officer for the Metropolitan Police Department. While participating in the Officer Friendly Program, I was actually assigned to work in public schools on a daily basis, helping to teach children about life, leadership skills and the good work we did as police officers. I met many children who needed a role model and a parent/father. They often told me stories about their mothers being on drugs or their fathers being locked away in prison. They wanted more for themselves. There were many occasions where I excused myself from the classroom to go in the hallway and have a good cry. Having grown up as one of 16 children living in abject poverty in North Carolina, I could see myself in their faces. I made the promise then that when I retired, I would serve those children for the rest of my life. I subsequently retired from the Metropolitan Police Department and for the last nearly 20 years I’ve been keeping that promise.
Q: Describe how your vision for our youth led to TFS.
A: I was a high school drop out. I earned my GED and became an officer. I eventually earned my degree at American University and received training as a counselor. Education was key to my life and growth. I wanted to share that lesson with children and teach them how “to fish in the rivers of the mind.” I owned a home that I wanted to refurbish and sell for a profit or rent out to supplement my pension. Instead, I decided to keep that property and open it in service to D.C. families. It became the first TFS center. A few years later we made the symbolic gesture of buying a former crack house next door and expanded the program to that facility.
A: My wife, Lucille, was there from the very beginning. She gave me the first $1,000 and I raised another $1,100 for my first year‘s budget of $2,100. However, I was very disappointed with the initial lack of support. People made promises but did not follow through on those promises. Wylie Street, where The Fishing School is located, was at the time considered one of the worst streets in the city, rife with crime and drugs; people were afraid. Eventually, a number of good hearted people began to hear our story and took notice. We have since enjoyed the support of loyal individuals, corporations and foundations. Like many nonprofits, sustainability is a big challenge in these economic times, but we have been blessed that some of the early supporters have stood by us.
A: The Officer Friendly Program helped with this issue. It taught the importance of rules and the need to obey them. It also emphasized that police are a part of the community and were engaged, not only when there was a problem or an investigation. We have to get back to this way of thinking.
A: I learned that The Fishing School is a learning opportunity for all of us. Sometimes as adults we have expectations that the children can not live up to because they have not been prepared to do so. We have to do our part; parents have to do their part. Everyone can achieve if given the opportunity and resources. We have helped over 2,500 students achieve their goals. Some who thought they didn't have a future have become medical professionals, police officers, firefighters and school teachers. “Faithfulness of God can make anything happen. God made it [TFS] happen.”