Remembering Mike Thomas

Mike Thomas, friend of Isles and cousin of longtime staffer Andre Thomas, passed away last month. Below is Andre’s reflection on Mike’s journey though CEET and how it inspired him to create opportunities for IYI students.

I reconnected with my cousin Mike in Home Depot. I saw him a few times and we would engage in small talk. He always asked about my Dad. When I asked what he was working on, he spoke of his small construction company called “The Thomas Brothers”.  What type of construction, I asked? He said “Home improvements and renovations.”   As a long-time union member of local #369 and local # 77, he was a proud tradesman, his specialty – brick mason.  I told him about our work at Isles, how we trained  contractors and then certified them to be energy and environmental experts.  He lit up with interest because he saw the value in gaining those additional skills for his business and himself – new tools  to provide a safe way to serve his customers. 

Mike successfully completed Isles’ US EPA Renovation, Repair and Painting as well as lead certified renovator training. And he didn’t stop there. He attended our Lead-Abatement worker course, and the Community Health Worker training, so he could learn what we are teaching home health workers who go into homes to look for environmental hazards. He also aspired to become a lead abatement contractor – and Isles was prepared to support his efforts.

What impressed me most about Mike was not just that he was a learner and conscientious contractor.  It was how much he started to see this training as a way to better help youth in our City.  We had long conversations about my work and how much I – and the youth in Trenton – got out of our environmental and energy training.  He was fascinated in how we could make it happen.

We planned to connect him to Isles Youth Institute’s Job Developer, Alla.  Mike wanted to be a part of something bigger – a way to share his skills, experiences, and wisdom from all his years of experience.  He understood their barriers and he also understood the resilience they needed to be successful.

“I have a passion for helping my community and more importantly the young people from my community. As long as they are hungry and willing to put the work in and establish themselves, it’s our duty to show them the way and give the tools to make it happen.”

Mike Thomas, in Isles’ 2019 Annual Report

He used to always say “Cousin, I want to help these babies out here, so they can make a good living”.  The plan was laid out for him to start doing that, then Covid-19 hit.  It postponed his start day, but it didn’t stop him from periodically checking in with me.  When things got back to normal, he was ready to implement the plan. 

Two weeks ago, Mike died in a tragic fire here in Trenton.  I’m deeply saddened by this missed opportunity – in our community, too many dreams go unfulfilled and aspirations unrealized – not because of effort but circumstance.  He wanted to get himself and others ahead, especially the youth.

On the other hand, I’m grateful that Isles believed in Mike’s aspirations, supported his company and gave him a hopeful platform to, in his words, “help the babies.”  Isles was a start in many respects.  We featured Mike’s business success story in Isles 2019 Newsletter.  That piece captured his spirit, leaving me a fond memory of our few years back together again, after years apart.   

One moral of this story is that life is precious – capture and hold up the stories of these heroes on the ground when we can!  We are lucky to work and play alongside them for a while. 

RIP Cousin Mike.

-Andre Thomas, Isles’ CEET Training Manager