No longer having the desire to jump from airplanes, former paratrooper Karl Thomas is happy keeping children well-grounded at the Zebulon Boys & Girls Club
Q: You have been the director of the Zebulon Boys & Girls Club for six years, having seen the transition to the club’s home on Shepherd School Road about two years ago. During your tenure, what do you feel is the most common misconception about the club?
A: That we are after-school child care. A lot of kids do come here after school but we are much more than that. We are open six days a week. We have so much to offer. We have a strong art program and a lot of our artists have their work displayed in art exhibits. We have a strong education program with a computer lab that the students utilize a lot. We have athletic leagues and our basketball program is very popular. We put on plays and we have talent shows. We have a library and a garden club. There is really something for everyone. It is all about keeping kids active – mind, body and soul. Our membership here is only $7.50 a year.
Q: Was providing a positive role model for kids a lifelong ambition?
A: It took me a while to get here but once I got involved, I knew this is what I was supposed to do.
Q: What did you do before this?
A: Well, I think I got the calling to be a missionary when I was a boy but I thought I was supposed to be a stock broker. I also worked in the customer service industry for a while – I worked for American Airlines. I volunteered years ago at the Boys Club in Raleigh. I was later offered a part-time job and I just got this feeling that this is what I was meant to do.
Q: Are you from eastern Wake?
A: I grew up in Connecticut but the military brought me to North Carolina when I was 17.
Q: Were your parents in the military?
A: No, I wanted to join and you can join before you are 18 if you have a parent sign for you. I told my mom I wanted to join and she didn’t want to sign for me so I told her I would get my dad to do it, so she signed then. I spent most of my time in the military at Fort Bragg. I was also stationed for a while in Korea.
Q: What made you want to join the military at such a young age?
A: I was just a patriotic guy. I wanted to serve my country. I was also from a pretty poor background and I wanted to take advantage of the GI Bill to help pay for college. I suppose that is why I have a heart for kids from challenging circumstances. I wanted to attend officers’ school but I was diagnosed with diabetes and that put an end to my military career. I then attended Campbell University, where I majored in history and minored in business.
Q: When you are not overseeing the club, what hobbies do you enjoy?
A: This job is very demanding and I do spend a lot of my time here. I would love to join more civic organizations but I do have a connection to many other clubs through this job. When I get a break, I like to read, watch movies and hike. I also love going to the beach.
Q: You have served as director for the Zebulon club for six years. You have witnessed a lot of transition.
A: Yes, we have come a long way. It started out in the gym of Zebulon Middle. We later moved to a modular unit that previously served as human services buildings, and now we have our own location.
Q: In your experience and what you have witnessed, what continues to be a pressing need for the youth?
A: We have this tremendous resource that was built to serve at least 200 kids and we have a lot of kids who are not utilizing it. Not everyone can get here – they just don’t have the transportation. This can do so much for the youth in this community and can provide a wonderful benefit but they need a way to get here.
Q: What do you think is the coolest thing about you that the kids at the club could learn?
A: When I was a paratrooper at Fort Bragg, I trained with Special Forces and the Rangers. With most planes, you jump out of the side but I was a part of a special team that began jumping out of the tailgate of a plane.
Q: How many times have you jumped?
A: About 45. It was such an adrenaline rush at first but then you get used to it. I think it messed up my adrenal glands because nothing – not even the scariest of rollercoasters- seems to affect me now (laughing).
Correspondent Dena Coward