Thomas Gallagher seems to know everyone at the North Domingo Baca Multigenerational Center. If he’s not high-fiving kids or swirling one of the seniors around in the lobby, he’s shaking hands, going out to the skatepark or striking up a conversation with a community member.
Gallagher, the center supervisor, said it’s important to get to know the people in the community to bring about positive change. “Know your community,” Gallagher said. “The biggest thing that I did when I first came here is I found out who my community partners were. So I went around and introduced myself and I said, ‘How can we work together?’”
Although Gallagher’s job is to oversee operations inside the center, he will visit businesses in the area, have lunch with people in the surrounding neighborhoods, host barbeques for local police and firefighters, and even go to a member’s house to help cut the grass or just talk about what is going on in their life.
“Over the years I’ve kind of grown to the point where I think it’s more important for us as managers, but more importantly as a human being, to be out here laughing and giggling and introducing yourself, and to know who comes in your building, what makes them tick,” Gallagher said. “I feel that it’s my obligation to go over and sit down — and not probe — but say, ‘Hey, are you doing all right?’ and just get a feel.”
“I built a relationship with them now where they will open up and tell me if there’s something wrong. And when we do that, I make sure that I do whatever I have to do to make sure that I can help them. I don’t care what it is. If I have to go to their house and cut their grass, I don’t care,” he said.
“This is a big family here and everyone loves everyone. Obviously you have your little bumps in a row with members and everything, but for the most part everyone respects one another. If it does get out of hand, I built that relationship with them where I can go out and say, ‘Hey, come on now guys, you know we’re not here for that.’”
Occasionally there are problems around North Domingo Baca Park that make their way into the building. From vandalism and homelessness to drug deals and underage drinking, Gallagher does what he can to turn a negative into a positive. Part of that process involves asking community members what he can do to make a difference. “At the end of it I say, ‘OK, what’s going right, what’s going wrong, and what do you want to see at North Domingo?’ And they tell me honestly, and I appreciate that. So, I take the negative first when I come back and then I look at ways I can make that negative a positive and make the positive an even stronger positive.”
Another way Gallagher identifies problems is by making observations about what is going on around the center. He said there is a camera at the skatepark he has access to and over time has learned who the troublemakers are. “So I try to go out there and I try to be a positive role model,” he said.
Changing a life
About five years ago, Gallagher noticed there was a person living out of their car who would buy alcohol for the kids at the skatepark. “One day I just went out there and said, ‘When you get the chance, come in the building … I want to talk to you.’”
When the person came in to talk, Gallagher asked, “What do you want to do with your life?” explaining that if he continued giving alcohol to minors, he was going to end up in jail. “So we got to talking and he said, ‘I would like to be a mechanic.’” When Gallagher asked why he didn’t get his GED to help him reach his goal, the young man responded that he couldn’t afford it.
“So long story short, I said, ‘Listen, I will take you to take the GED test out of my own pocket, but you have to commit to it … In return, what I need from you is to stop bringing alcohol and to be a better role model for these kids because they all look up to you,” he continued.
About a year later, after passing his GED on the first try, the young man came back and told Gallagher he had his own studio apartment, had a part-time job and was going to school to be a mechanic. Events like these are what make Gallagher’s job so fulfilling.
“The fulfilling part is every morning I get up and I say my morning prayers for my family, my friends and my loved ones, but I always say put me in the path of one person every day. I don’t care whether it’s to notice a haircut, to sit down to listen to them, to laugh with them, to cry with them, to point them in a direction of need, whatever it is … I want them to feel the love that I feel from them. That’s the most rewarding part.”
Focus on family
The hardest part of the job is seeing some of the seniors pass on. “I guess the negative part about my job is, you know, it’s just a cycle of life and as you get older you understand it. I’ve lost a lot of seniors during COVID, and that is probably the hardest thing. I go to every one of their funerals because I figure that they’re my family, so I’m going to go and be with them with their families when they’re laid to rest.”
For Gallagher it is important to know about the good and the bad, and to do what he can to make a positive impact, whether for one person or the whole community. Even the little things can make a big difference. He said this past week one of the senior members came in and he noticed something different. “’Wait a minute,’ I said. You have makeup on today. So what’s going on?’ She said, ‘Oh, you noticed,’ and I said yes. I said, ‘So who is he? You’re not doing anything until I sit down and have a talk with this young man.’”
Two days later Gallagher was called to the front where he was introduced to the young man before they went into his office to talk. Gallagher said, “She’s a great lady. She’s spunky, feisty, good luck.” To Gallagher’s surprise, the young man replied by saying he just asked her to marry him.
“It’s just fun stuff like that,” Gallagher said, adding that it meant a lot to him because she took it upon herself to make sure he talked to him. “Stuff like that just warms your heart.”
Gallagher said his number one priority is family and church. He is married with four kids: Thomas, Amira, Loralia and London. He is a retired U.S. Air Force master sergeant with a background in special investigations. He said his favorite place to go in the Albuquerque area is the Sandia Crest, where he goes to find solitude and to relax and reflect. Gallagher was born in Detroit but grew up in Chicago, where he played sports and worked at a group home for autistic children. He said working at the group home gave him “a new perspective” and helped him to “not look at yourself and to look at the needs of others first,” adding that it helped to lay the groundwork for where he is today.
When asked where he sees himself in five to 10 years, Gallagher said, “I’m gonna stay. You’re not guaranteed tomorrow. I take today for today. Tomorrow is not given. If it comes tomorrow, then I’ll worry about tomorrow tomorrow, and whatever happened yesterday is behind you for a reason. I don’t see myself going anywhere anytime soon. I enjoy life too much here.”