During the holiday season, many southern Denton County residents look to the Christian Community Action (CCA) nonprofit headquartered in Lewisville as a guiding star; but, to give to those in need, rather than to receive gifts from the three kings from the Orient.
The idea for CCA began in 1973 as a seven-person Bible study group and over the past 43 years, it has grown into an organization of more than 150 staff members plus 2,500 volunteers, providing more than 10,000 individual services each year.
And, even with those impressive numbers, it’s estimated that only one-in-four Flower Mound citizens are aware that CCA exists.
It has been healing, feeding and educating those in need throughout Denton, Collin, Dallas, Tarrant and Wise counties with a holistic approach to transition rather than rescue; from offering a hand-up instead of a hand-out.
The nonprofit’s Development Gift Officer, Tom Cibula, 57, handles fundraising and creating outreach awareness. Through group presentations he helps encourage donations and volunteerism.
The Ohio native has two sisters and a twin brother who still all live in Ohio; he last visited this July.
“I was a surprise when I was born,” said Cibula. “I had a really weak heartbeat, so when my brother was born first, he was given my father’s name; and, then I arrived and I was named Thomas, after ‘doubting’ Thomas, the apostle. They all doubted that I would even survive. I was born on April 1 and was in an incubator for eight weeks.”
That beginning was a foreshadowing of what would come later.
His father died when Tom was only 11-year-old and he moved to attend Texas A&M with a double major in finance and accounting, because Texas schools cost less for someone who worked his way through college.
“I spent over 25-years in product development, marketing and consulting and sales of electronic funds transfer solutions to financial institutions in the U.S., Canada and the Caribbean,” said Cibula. “I was making a six-figure plus salary and traveled all over the country. I had built a nice nest egg in savings and retirement and accumulated about one-million frequent flyer miles. So, I was looking forward to comfortably retiring someday and traveling the world in style with my saving, retirement income and those miles.”
Then came the economic recession and the collapse of the banking industry. The company he worked for went out of business and he found himself without a job, in an industry that was collapsing along with an economy in the middle of a deep recession.
For two years he looked for work in his industry, all the while living off his savings, his retirement, then eventually he was forced to sell his frequent flyer miles for gas and grocery money.
In addition, his house went into forbearance … a one-year final step away from foreclosure. Forbearance means the bank allowed him to suspend mortgage payments for one year. However, at the end of that time, he would have to provide the bank with all of the deferred interest and resume his payment schedule, or be subject to foreclosure.
“At this point I was flat-busted and finding myself living on food stamps and converting my frequent flyer miles for gift cards at Walmart to buy gas and toiletries; remember, food stamps do not cover these items,” said Cibula. “I would only drive to the library to use their free internet to job search for employment opportunities and job networking groups.”
Some of the interviews took a month or more in multiple locations; then, there’d be a company budget issue, or hiring freeze.
During a discussion with a colleague at a job networking group, Cibula was encouraged to investigate CCA in Lewisville.
“Well, I came to CCA, filled out their application and they assigned me a case manager, who then enrolled me in the CCA [food] pantry, the job search program and they paid my utilities,” he said. “My case manager suggested that I consider volunteering and submit an employment application at CCA. On the days visiting CCA’s pantry and volunteering, I would go to their community room with my laptop and use CCA’s guest Wi-Fi service to check the internet for possible employment opportunities.”
In January 2013, CCA hired him in their resale store as a part-time cashier (unfortunately, no health insurance).
“After a just few months on the job, I became ill and went to a doctor,” said Cibula. “It was determined during a test in the hospital that I’d had a heart attack at some point and had severe heart disease. I was immediately taken upstairs to an OR and had immediate open heart six-bypass surgery.
“While I was recovering from my surgery, my manager from CCA showed up at my hospital room. Well, I thought, ‘he’s here to tell me that they had replaced me.’ Instead, he leaned over, gave me a hug and told me to get well, because they needed me back at CCA and were holding my position open for me.”
As soon as the doctor gave him his work release, he was back on the job at CCA. In April 2013, CCA made him a fulltime employee which made him eligible for health insurance.
“Then, after a few months, they promoted me to a Development Gift Officer. Unfortunately, I had already incurred over $100,000 of medical bills. CCA stepped in and assisted me with negotiating the amount down and arranging for monthly payments on the lowered amount. I just got that paid-off this month.”
He still had the issue with his mortgage hanging over him like a big black cloud.
“It was like having a gun against my head and having the trigger pulled every day,” he said. “All the dominos kept falling and CCA caught them all for me.”
Yes; CCA solved the mortgage issue, too.
“One of CCA’s board members (who worked for the mortgage holder) contacted the company and my foreclosure proceedings were suspended,” said Cibula. “CCA then loaned me the additional funds I needed to bring my mortgage up-to-date, which took me out of foreclosure.
“Today I can say that I am truly blessed to be a part of the CCA ministry. I have been here almost four years and I have seen so many miracles happen every day. The public’s support and prayers are creating those miracles that change the lives of so many who walk through CCA’s doors. You are looking at one.”
For more information on CCA, visit: ccahelps.org.