When Tom VanDevender retired in 2008 from a 30-year career in information technology, he believed that he was being called to a higher purpose and started saying yes to many different volunteer experiences. “If you are retired and willing to say ‘yes’ then all kinds of great opportunities can come your way. I have gotten the chance to be active in the community in multiple ways simply because I was willing and able.”
For the past nine years since his retirement, VanDevender has been on a personal journey and credits his strong faith as the inspiration to give back: “I’ve been rewarded with so much -- I feel I got lucky.” As someone who has overcome personal struggles with addiction, VanDevender has been invested in the recovery and re-entry communities serving as a mentor and group leader for countless incarcerated adult men. He volunteers three to five days each week at Wheeler Mission, overseeing the men's lunch program and leading recovery groups. VanDevender also serves as a KAIROS volunteer, a fellowship to bring hope and faith to incarcerated males, and does one-on-one mentoring for Trusted Mentors. He has a long-term relationship with an adult male who had failed with many previous mentors.
VanDevender also has a passion for youth ministry and volunteers weekly at Outreach Indiana, an Indianapolis Homeless Youth Ministry organization, and is involved with Horizon House’s summer camp program. He assists with a school based Child Evangelism Fellowship in Wayne Township and participates in numerous church community outreach events. VanDevender feels blessed he is able to spend time with so many different people and that every person has a unique story to tell. He believes the more people can take the opportunity to learn from each other and love one another, the easier it becomes to break down the conflicts that arise with differences such as race, ethnicity, socio-economic status or political ideologies.
VanDevender’s motto is simple: “I try to listen more than I talk, and learn more than I’m trying to teach other people.” There are two factors that lead to a person being a hero: the circumstances they find themselves in and how they react to these circumstances. VanDevender’s courage and service to others in need makes him a true hero.