It is always my pleasure in life to meet individuals who have a strong and abiding love of speaking up for others. It is quite possibly one of the greatest assets to posses: a drive to give a voice to the ones that are so often silenced. I have met many such people in my career as a social worker, and even now as I get to meet and interview parents for Northshore Parent, I have the privilege of getting to see the world through their perspective. Children are held so dearly in our society, yet they are often the ones who fall victim to life’s tragedies and injustices. Thankfully there are special people who dedicate their lives to naming and fighting against these enemies that our children face. Abuse, neglect, poverty, mental illness; these are all situations that can change the course of a child’s life. Here on the Northshore we have services put in place to safeguard and protect children when these monsters arise. Namely, we have Hope House, the Children’s Advocacy Center piloted by a multi-disciplinary team of professionals.
When I was a child dreaming of helping others and saving the world, I had dreamed that places like Hope House would exist, to push back against some of the evils in this world. Specifically Hope House fights against child abuse and the many consequences that can form as a result of it. The Hope House website describes their mission as, “providing a path to recovery and a bridge to justice for victims of abuse. CAC Hope House provides forensic interviewing, family advocacy, counseling services, and prevention outreach within St. Tammany and Washington Parishes,” but I wanted to highlight one such individual that makes all of these efforts possible. A parent himself in our community, Thomas Mitchell leads this initiative as Executive Director and long time veteran of the social justice and mental health community. Here we get to know him and his family a little better and his insight on rearing his own children, as well as how we can see the world in a more loving and empathetic manner.
Introduce yourself and your family! Who are you, what city do you live in, what do you do for work?
My name is Thomas Mitchell and I am the husband of Sayuri Mitchell and father of three incredible kids, Zoe, Emma, and Owen. We live in Mandeville. I am employed as the Executive Director of Children’s Advocacy Center – Hope House. We moved to the Northshore around five years ago, and we absolutely love our community!
How did you get involved with Hope House and children’s advocacy?
In 2010, I graduated with my Master’s degree in Psychological Counseling, and Sayuri and I relocated to Tennessee. I landed a position as a Clinical Therapist with a local foster care agency, and I quickly gained an appreciation for advocating for at-risk children. I later became employed at a local Children’s Advocacy Center (Carl Perkins Center); when I was able to observe kids get better after tragic abuse scenarios, it changed my life. I went on to oversee the clinical services across 18 CACs (Children’s Advocacy Center) in West Tennessee. In early 2017, I saw a position posted for the Executive Director of CAC Hope House in Covington. I applied for the job, and interviewed with the board of directors in April. I was elated to hear I was offered the position. The rest is history. I have the privilege of coming to work every day with some of the coolest people I know, and truly make a difference in the lives of children. It’s my dream job.
What causes are you passionate about?
I am an active member of the Exchange Club of West St. Tammany. It’s an incredible service organization, which host the Ultimate Tailgate Party fundraiser annually. I enjoy connecting with the members and helping with service towards the betterment of our community.
What advice do you have for parents who struggle to balance being successful in work with being present in their families?
The struggle is real; it’s really real. I have to focus daily on making sure I am meeting the needs of my family and my home before work. If I am not whole, my efficacy in work is certainly going to deteriorate. I think we all, at times, place such a high importance on meeting all of the demands of work without regard to costs or consequences. I have been able to improve my work-life balance slowly by learning to establish boundaries, but I still struggle at times.
Who is your biggest influence and who is your biggest support?
Biggest influence, hands down: Steve Tujague, a local Northshore resident. I met Steve in 2018 and since then, he’s made me a better person. As a follower of Christ, Steve embodies selflessness and a true spirit of being a Christian. He is an incredible man who will go out of his way to help others at all costs. He has partnered with Hope House on many initiatives, and throughout his partnership, he’s greatly influenced our entire team. He’s bold in his faith and inspires others to make our community a better place. I am proud to call him a friend and a mentor. He and his family are a true treasure for our community. One of the most valuable attributes I love about Steve is that nothing he does is about him; he demonstrates true altruism, which is quite rare. One of his favorite Bible verses is Colossians 3:17
“And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Steve has really influenced me in being able to have a greater perspective, to always look beyond the current situation and count the blessings that each of us have been given. He is wise, kind, and simply someone who you aspire to be like.
Another strong influence in my life has been Delaine Bottoms. As Anthony Bourdain is to Chefs, she is to CAC leaders across the Southern region. She is certainly one of the most intelligent people I have had the opportunity to know. She was my boss for four years at the Carl Perkins Center, and in that time, I gained all that I could in understanding what it meant to serve children in this profession. Perhaps most importantly, I gained a true understanding of what it meant to serve children as an honor and privilege.
My biggest support is certainly my beautiful wife Sayuri. She is the most incredible mom and the best support I could imagine. I am truly the luckiest man ever to have her choose me as a husband. She helps me be a better person. The best time of my day is when we get watch relax, watch movies, and just talk.
Where did you grow up/what brought you to this area?
I was born and raised in Jackson, TN. It’s a small town (55,000) in the middle of Memphis and Nashville. I enjoyed growing up there; it has its pros and cons. After graduating high school at Trinity Christian Academy, I went to college at Nicholls State in Thibodaux. I was exposed briefly to the Northshore, and I always thought I’d love to live here. When the position was posted at Hope House, I took my shot, and the rest is history. We are certainly blessed to live in this community.
What is your favorite thing about living on the Northshore?
I love the Trace. I think it’s so underrated. After work, I often run, or lately jog, from the West 30s to Abita on the Trace. Each run is it’s own journey; it engages all of the senses. You can see the beauty of St. Tammany on the trace. Whether it’s the historical architecture, parks, neat trailheads, nature, breweries, or amazing restaurants, there’s really a lot to appreciate on the trace.
What’s your favorite family activity in your parish?
We love the events our Parish has to offer. We love the farmer’s markets, festivals, and Mardi Gras parades. There’s always something to do. Our kids feel like it’s an adventure every weekend. As we relocated here from Tennessee, we truly appreciate all of the events. In West Tennessee, we typically have around 20% of the events the Northshore has to offer.
What’s your favorite local small business?
MSH Architects; Michael and Shiloh are some of the coolest people I know, and they are incredible architects. They really go above and beyond to support our community in their business while maintaining an excellent reputation in the field of architectural design.
How has being a parent changed you and influenced the way you behave in the world outside the home?
I think becoming a parent shifts your focus to one of gratitude and altered perception. I look at my children and think how blessed and fortunate Sayuri and I are to have our three incredible kiddos. They bring us so much joy, laughter, and learning. It’s really amazing to watch them learn, grow, and experience life. I try to look at the world through their lens, which is one of inquisitiveness and seeing the good in everything. We try our best as parents to give them a sense of trust and security so that they experience the world around them in a state of exploration and learning. After I became a parent, I was able to start looking at other adults in a different perspective. Like if I was experiencing a challenging situation with a difficult person, who might be acting absurdly, irrationally, or as if he or she was a child, I have started to think, “This person was once a baby, a child” and their behavioral patterns aren’t entirely indicative of who they are, but more associated with what’s happened to them, or didn’t happen to them. It takes you from a place of being frustrated to understanding. All of that conditioning along the way resulted in what we are experiencing now. I don’t know if that makes any sense, but it’s perspective I gained after having kids.
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