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Widower finds purpose as Little Village ‘grandpa’


Little Village volunteer Tom Cruze

By Robin Wagner
Director of Volunteer Services

When Tom Cruze’s wife passed away in 2017 after 44 years of marriage, he found himself alone and was looking for something to help fill the void in his life. He began volunteering with our Thanksgiving Exchange, which takes place in his neighborhood of Westwood. Several month later, he heard about Little Village, a new City Gospel Mission program that was starting up, also was in Westwood.

Tom connected with Melanie Gomez, the Little Village director, who put Tom’s skills to use as she began the large project of renovating the space that was to become Little Village, which provides a safe place for parents and guardians to bring their children ages 0-5 for indoor play and relationships. He intended to help for only a few months. However, he says, “those months turned out to be so much fun that it stretched out to over a year,” only halted by the program’s temporary closure because of COVID-19.

From handyman to ‘grandpa’

Tom, who has 5 children and 10 grandchildren, ended up becoming Little Village’s “grandpa.” He said it has been extremely rewarding for him volunteering and watching children really grow and thrive. He has developed relationships with many of the families that frequent Little Village. Tom says, “There are the hugs from little arms that say so much, ‘Thank you for being here today, for reading me a story, for playing with me.’ ”

Gomez says, “Tom was an essential part of getting Little Village up and running, with his experience and attention to detail in helping to make our space safe, welcoming, and fun for families. He also has become a loved and well-known pillar of our program. So many families have been blessed by him, whether he’s reading stories, encouraging small successes, or building relationships with caregivers. It has been a privilege to work alongside him and a joy to call him my friend.”

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