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My Father’s Hands hosts golf fundraiser

George Smith credits My Father's Hands with giving him help he needed find his way out Hesed House homeless shelter.

George Smith credits My Father's Hands with giving him the help he needed to find his way out of the Hesed House homeless shelter. | Submitted

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If You Go

What: My Father’s Hands Charity Golf Event

When: Noon, Monday,
Sept. 16

Where: Orchard Valley Golf Course, 2411 W. Illinois Ave., Aurora

Web: To register, donate and for more information about My Father’s Hands, visit

Updated: September 12, 2013 12:04PM

Robert Thurlby worked in the financial sector, but when his father died in 2005, he began to think about ways he could help others. Thurlby’s father had taught him a variety of general contracting skills, and the son realized he could use them to make the community a better place.

“He noticed there were two different sectors of the community not getting enough attention,” said Matt Strausberger, the director of operations for Thurlby’s Aurora-based organization, My Father’s Hands.

First, there were men who suffered from drug/alcohol addiction and were living in homeless shelters. They could be taught general contractor skills, stay with the organization a year or two, and then move into full-time employment. They get a second chance through My Father’s Hands.

Second, often senior citizens who are low income need help with home repairs. Improvements include fixing roofs as well as larger projects such as converting a hotel into a senior-living center.

And so My Father’s Hands was created. A crew goes in to take care of the problem while teaching the mentee the proper way to handle the repair. The mentees also learn how to work with the people they are helping.

While the organization can only do as much as funding will allow, it is able to help people in a variety of circumstances, often getting referrals from city code enforcement offices and senior affairs officers. Strausberger estimates the organization has helped 1,000 households in the community since the organization’s inception in 2005.

Sylvia Gord, 72, is one such senior.

“It’s just like he’s my guardian angel,” she said of Thurlby. “I wish I could word it all better. There is not enough praise in my heart for all he’s done for me.”

My Father’s Hands has done a variety of things for Gord, but most recently, her chimney was repaired after the city cited her for violations.

George Smith is another who benefitted from the organization’s generosity.

Smith found himself living at the Hesed House homeless shelter and needed something to do. The 63-year-old lost his license to drive a semitruck, his job for 32 years.

One day at Hesed, Thurlby came in looking for someone to help, and Smith decided to go. It turned out that the two men had been connected before without knowing it — Thurlby had worked for Smith’s brother when he was younger.

“Bob pretty much taught me everything he knows,” Smith said. “He’s been a mentor to me.”

But that doesn’t mean that the organization has been without pitfalls.

Because the men they are working with often have addiction problems, they don’t necessarily stay with it. Strausberger said that, if they break it down, about 33 percent want to try it but don’t have the skills. The second 33 percent will work a few weeks, collect a few paychecks, then disappear and are never heard from again. The final 33 percent, like Smith, stick with it and learn the skills. Strausberger said about 30 men have come through the organization and gone onto other full-time employment.

The organization now runs a crew of six (one mentor and five mentees), but they often have to turn jobs down because of funding. My Father’s Hands has built several wheelchair ramps in the community, but each one costs between $4,000 and $5,000 to construct, which limits how many they can do.

“We do as much work as we can with the funding we have,” Strausberger said, noting that they depend on grants and donations.

Not only does the organization help people with basic needs like shoveling snow, cutting down tree limbs and fixing leaky faucets, but it also gives the mentees a chance to help people in a way they might not have had before.

“I like helping people,” Smith said. “It makes me feel good that I’m helping someone who can’t help themselves.”

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