Thomas Leffler found out why Cleveland is ‘The City with Spirit’
by DAVID DAVIS Managing Editor
Sep 15, 2013 | 1305 views | 0 0 comments | 3 3 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Thomas Leffler
Cleveland EmergencY SHELTER Director Dwight Donohoo, left, greets Thomas Leffler Friday afternoon. Leffler returned to the shelter at 745 Wildwood Ave. S.E. to thank Donohoo and staff for their support for a month in the summer of 2012. Since his stay at the shelter, Leffler has gained a steady job, moved into an apartment, bought a car and found a church home.  Banner photo, DAVID DAVIS
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Thomas Leffler feels welcome in Cleveland, “The City With Spirit,” and proudly claims it as his hometown only a year after his arrival.

If Cleveland Regional Jetport is the front door to the city, then Leffler came quietly, with no fanfare, through the backdoor on Father’s Day in 2012, when he checked into the Cleveland Emergency Shelter on Wildwood Avenue through means which admittedly were his own fault.

“I met this young lady on the Internet,” he said. “I know I shouldn’t have, but I moved from Alabama to Decatur to be with her. That lasted about a week until my money ran out. I came home from church, and I was out of the house. All of my stuff was packed up and setting out on the sidewalk.”

Leffler returned to the Emergency Shelter to thank staff for their support in his effort to work his way back into mainstream society.

Emergency Shelter Director Dwight Donohoo said his goal is for all of its clients to succeed and do well, to provide for themselves and their families, and to get a solid foothold in the community — or back into the community, for some.

“There is nothing like having your own stability, having your own fixed, regular residence; like I tell everybody, your own picket fence,” Donohoo said.

Cleveland Emergency Shelter is not the first in which Leffler has stayed, but he believes the staff is more compassionate here than in other places. Compassion toward others could be the reason the rules at the local shelter make it easier to pursue the picket fence, because once checked in, belongings are kept secure during the day while residents are out.

“In others, you had to take your stuff with you. Here you don’t have to, and that’s a great help when people are looking for work,” he said.

Donohoo does not fault other shelters, because each have funding and space constraints that somewhat dictate operations.

“We’re limited in space and other shelters may be more limited in space because of funding or have greater numbers so they have to do that,” he said. “It’s not uncommon for a shelter to limit you to a few belongings and a backpack.”

Leffler had no support and no place to go with his few belongings piled onto the sidewalk in Decatur. Fortunately, the church he attended that one time earlier in the day was aware of the Cleveland Emergency Shelter.

The shelter staff and yet another church became his support structure through a feeding ministry.

“This one gentleman named Sam Carico invited me to East Side Church of Christ,” he said. “I started attending and felt this was where I needed to be and on July 17, I was baptized. It has been going great ever since.”

The congregation accepted the 52-year-old Leffler into their midst at a time when he had nothing to offer, but he wasted no time before getting out and looking for work. His first job was mowing the grounds at Fort Hill Cemetery owned by Louisville Land Company.

“Things just didn’t work out over there,” he said.

However, he worked in the cemetery long enough to move from the shelter to the Diplomat Motel on South Lee Highway. From there, he went to work at M&M Mars through a temporary agency and was able to move to the Economy Inn on 25th Street.

“I worked at M&M’s, but got sick, missed some time and had to be let go from that,” he said. “In December, I started working as a janitor at Cleveland City Schools through a couple of different cleaning services.”

With that job, he bought a sensible used car and the day after school ended for the summer, he took a road trip to Bradford, Pa., to visit his parents.

“I came from a big family. My real mother passed away and my real dad couldn’t take care of all 16 of us, so he called all of his brothers and sisters to come and get some of us kids,” Leffler said.

“My dad asked that my name not be changed, but they did it anyway through the court system and that’s how I became a Leffler. My birth name was Henton.”

He was 11 months old when he was adopted and had no idea, until he was 15. His Aunt June and Uncle Jim raised him as their own.

After high school, Leffler attended a trade school where he learned general building maintenance and custodial services. From there, he went South, found work in Atlanta at a convenience store for awhile and then went back to Pennsylvania for a couple of years.

“I’d just gotten home and my real dad passed away in July of ’88,” he said. “I left there and went to Florida. I was in Melbourne, Jacksonville, Miami, Orlando and then I went back to Pennsylvania, again.”

After Pennsylvania, he ended up in Alabama before meeting the girl online and moving to Decatur.

After his monthlong visit to Pennsylvania during summer vacation, Leffler returned to Cleveland, found a nice apartment on Park Street, and is doing custodial work at Cleveland High, where he also volunteers as equipment manager for the Raiders football team.

“That’s how I became a citizen of Cleveland, Tenn.,” he said. “I’m calling Cleveland my hometown.”