By John Fitzpatrick
Tom and Maureen Nolan embody all the traits of good volunteers. Both come from families that stressed faith, fairness and service to others. Both spent their careers in education, choosing to serve in the low-income northside of St. Louis. Now, because of the Nolans, low-income people in Belize have new reason to hope.
As they approached retirement in early 2013, Tom and Maureen knew they had more to offer. Tom said, “We have been blessed with good health, and our children – Rosie, Tom, Jr. and Patrick – were all grown, so taking on a volunteer role made perfect sense.”
They had specific criteria as they considered which projects to support with their time. Their next undertaking must have preferential concern for the poor. It would have to make a real impact, with measurable results. Finally, it had to include a sense of community.
Tom and Maureen prefer to work with like-minded individuals who want to accomplish good. “We knew we would continue our efforts in the northside through our parish, Sts. Teresa and Bridget,” Maureen said. “So, for our new venture, we thought about working beyond the U.S. borders.”
As good fortune would have it, their youngest child, Patrick, was serving as a volunteer in Belize City, Belize. Pat frequently visited the Jesuit community at St. John’s College, and Jesuit Fathers Tim Thompson and Bill Snyders and Br. Glenn Kerfoot took him under their wing. Pat became quite familiar with the Jesuit works in Belize. He scheduled meetings for his parents and two other couples: David and Nancy Danis and John and Joan Vatterott. What all three couples witnessed was a beautiful country and kind people living in extreme poverty.
That initial meeting inaugurated an ongoing effort to work with the Jesuits to help the people of Belize.
The Nolans and several other families launched Belize 2020. The “2020” in the name refers to perfect 20/20 vision, as opposed to the upcoming year. The Nolans helped to recruit more volunteers in the U.S. and worked with Belizeans to form a mirror committee to create a true partnership.
“There is one thing we have definitely learned from working in the northside, and that is not to simply jump into something, but to listen to the people who live there,” Maureen Nolan said. “It is their life. They know better than anyone what challenges they face and what is really needed.”
Belize 2020 has become a labor of love for Tom and Maureen. They travel frequently to Belize, putting in numerous hours and providing much needed guidance to the overall effort. All is done with great humor and humility.
“Today in the U.S. most people write a check and their obligation to help others has been met,” said friends John and Joan Vatterott. “The Nolans are different; they live their charity. We can’t think of too many couples like Mo and Tom that think in a Big Picture-Big Heart way and are so much fun at the same time.”
Currently, Tom and Maureen can be found working on their parish’s Winter Outreach Program. When the temperature drops below 20 degrees, Sts. Teresa and Bridget opens the basement to people who are homeless, providing a meal and a warm place to stay for the night.
When Maureen and Tom are asked why they don’t spend their retirement on a beach or the golf course, their response is simple and shared: “We do get away and recharge our batteries, but the purpose of life is to share with others, help when you can.”