It’s your birthday, the day you celebrate another year of life and existence in this world. You receive Facebook notifications, text messages, phone calls and gifts from 12:00 a.m. to 11:59 p.m. Your birthday is the time to commemorate you. However, the first PHREAdom Leader of 2014 chose otherwise.
On January 8, Winthrop University alum Brandon Thomas celebrated his 28th birthday. When people asked him what he wanted, he said he felt like a jerk because he didn’t need anything and knew there were people who were without clothes, shelter, and food. It was then when he realized what he wanted for his special day.
Thomas, an academic advisor at the University of New Hampshire, decided he was going to raise awareness for the homeless veterans of the United States. He remembered attending a conference two years ago when one of the speakers shared information about the number of homeless United States veterans.
“The stats were amazing because these are the people who fought for us and [we] kind of swaddled them. They get out of the military and struggle to get back into society,” he said.
The current New Market, New Hampshire resident always knew he wanted to do something different. He wanted explore new places and meet new people. He wanted to challenge himself.
GoFundMe birthday for the homeless
With the help of social media and crowd funding, Thomas created a challenge to fast for 24 hours and raise $300 on his birthday. The member of Omega Psi Phi shared his challenge with his thousands of social media friends and network to join in on the cause.
His last meal was at 10 p.m. on January 7, and he didn’t eat again until 8 a.m. the following morning, he said.
He told himself that if he was going to create the challenge then he was going to go all in. He wanted to experience what it felt like to not be able to eat.
Around 5 or 6, he experienced the hunger struggle and knew he had access to food. He felt bad because there were some people who don’t have a meal to eat, he said.
While Thomas fasted, many supporters were making donations towards the cause. He reached the goal by 12:45 p.m. the next day. A total of $502 was raised for the Homeless Veterans of Dallas, which has one of the highest numbers of vets living on the streets.
“I was really impressed,” he said. “Some people shared with their friends and I receive donations by people who don’t know me.”
Thomas’ initiative wasn’t about the money.
“It was about raising awareness,” Thomas said.
The purpose of the challenge did not end after his birthday. He wants people to feel the impact of his work and dedication towards making a difference.
“Because of me, 20 people are able to eat another day,” Thomas explained. “If I can be selfless for 24 hours to give to someone else…on a day special to me…[his birthday] meant more.”
Passion to help others
The academic advisor is passionate about helping others through different facets including his service and meeting new people.
You never know someone’s struggle, but just by interacting with them can make a difference, he said.
The smallest thing that someone does change another person’s day, he said. “I want to change the world one day at a time.”
Hope to spread care to the next man
Oftentimes, individuals get caught in the moment, but fail to care about the next man, the 28-year-old explained.
“I can think of 1000 people, I owe a lot of what I do to them,” Thomas said. “They were hard on me, but it prepared me for today.”
Respect is culturally different
Thomas believes that respect is culturally different depending on the person. Respect is about paying homage to those that came before you, he said.
Growing up, the Winthrop graduate’s family always told him to make sure he made them proud. Everything he does is a reflection of that message instilled in him at a young age growing up in Myrtle Beach, S.C.
“Respect is not really about you, but those around you,” he said.
Empowered to teach young people
Thomas, who received his bachelors’ degree in English and masters’ in Sports & Fitness Administration, became empowered to teach young individuals. While obtaining his graduate degree, he served as a graduate assistant at Winthrop University for two years. He loves the university atmosphere and connecting with people. This led to his current role as a advisor and ultimately a role model to young people.
“I gotta be a good role model,” Thomas said. “I need to be a walking example.”
He was empowered by the people who impacted his life because they actually care.
“I realized that people actually gave a shit and they didn’t have to,” he said.
Emptying pocket of ambitions
Everyone has some type of ambitions, and Thomas is no different. Although he tries not to think too far ahead, he wants to make a difference in the world and keep a smile on his face. He wants to eventually start his doctorate program and go from there.
“I got a list of goals in my pocket,” he said.
One of his favorite quote is “life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you deal with it,” Thomas said meaning that “no matter what happens you can overcome it and see the brighter side.”