Thomas Williams 2One peer at Perry Wellness Center is paying it forward in his community. A someone who has dealt with the stigma of mental illness, Thomas W. has made it his life’s goal to give back to others who may seem “different.”

Thomas has particularly wanted to provide assistance for children enrolled in special education programs. Recently he was provided an opportunity when a conversation between two individuals led to a new partnership of community sharing between the Sumter County school system and Perry Wellness Center. Several weeks ago, a chat between PWC staff member Teresa Vogt and her niece, Jessica Phillips, a first grade teacher at Sumter Primary School generated some ideas for classroom involvement.

Soon after, Thomas was invited to visit Jessica Phillips’ classroom and read two books of his choosing. Before his visit, Teresa Vogt worked with him in the selection of appropriate grade-level books for his reading debut. When the day arrived, Ms. Phillips welcomed Thomas to her classroom and instructed her ten students to take a seat in a carpeted area.

“We all welcome Mr. W. to Sumter Primary and our class,” she announced. “He has brought two books to read to us.” The class welcomed Thomas with applause.

For his first book, Thomas read, “There is a Fly Guy in My Soup.” As he began reading, the class grew quiet and attentive. Both teachers and students appeared to enjoy the reading as Thomas engaged the class, relating the words of the story to everyday life.

For his second selection, Thomas read “It’s Okay to Be Different.” The students were rapt as he turned the colorful pages of the book and read its message of affirmation.  

“It is okay to be different,” Thomas said with a smile. “We all know people who are different from us, but we need to make a point to understand these differences.”

When he finished his first visit to Sumter County Primary, Thomas and Perry Wellness Center staff were assured of future invitations for his well-received reading. Back at Perry Wellness Center, Thomas beamed as he reflected on the visit.

“That was fun for me,” he enthused. “I hope the kids enjoyed the visit as much as I did.” Thomas also plans to volunteer to assist with the annual Special Olympics, and is pleased to get to know many of its participants beforehand.

Thomas has a long history with Perry Wellness Center and its founder, Stuart Perry. He recalls, “I met Stuart when I went to Tom Perry Peer Center on the Plains highway. That was back in 2007, I think. Things have changed with the move to where we are now, but those days of learning and dealing with my ‘different’ life were good. I am happy to represent Perry Wellness Center with my readings. I hope Stuart will attend with me when I go back again!”

Something tells us that is one invitation Stuart won’t turn down. Congratulations to Thomas W. for his volunteerism and his powerful message of acceptance.


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