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Right Person, Right Place, Right Time...

Posted by on in Social Emotional Learning
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I was driving home and was less than 15 minutes from my destination. I was excited to see my family and to also say good-bye to some family members that were in town. I was driving in the passing lane of a two-lane highway with a wide median, when I saw something that shook me to my core. I was crossing a bridge and saw a man laying on top of the safety railing, with half of his body dangling over the edge.

Immediately, my brain went into full overload. What was going on? Is he doing what I think he is doing? What should I do? In an instant, I decided to stop and help. I found the safest spot for me to turn around in the median and drove back around to meet up with the person. When I arrived on the scene, he was no longer laying on the railing of the bridge. He was now sitting on the curb of the overpass, no more than 5 feet away from the traffic flying past him. I then began to make my approach...

As I walked towards him, I yelled over, "Brother, what's going on?" He looked up at me and then quickly hung his head again. Once I was closer, I noticed there were fresh cuts and blood all over his arms, located dangerously close to the radial artery. I looked a little closer and saw that he had a hospital bracelet on his right wrist. These signs told me that this situation required specific interventions. Luckily for myself and this man, I have extensive training and experience in crisis-management and working with individuals dealing with issues.

I asked him what he was doing out here and he told me, very calmly, that he "wanted to die". I continued to slowly approach him and told him that I wanted to talk with him and asked him to follow me. His response to my plea was the same as before, "I want to die". At this point, I was several feet from where he was sitting with cars speeding by us. I knelt and asked him what he was feeling (the first question in my approach to understanding) and he told me that his wife didn't love him anymore. I told him that I cared about him and wanted to hear about everything, but that we were not safe where we were and I asked him to follow me. He agreed and we began a slow, cautious walk on the narrow highway shoulder off the bridge to the median.

Once we were in a safer spot, I had to ask more questions to assess my safety level in this situation. The cuts on his arms were fresh, so I asked him what he used to do that. He told me that he used a knife and that he threw it over the bridge. He then provided me with a handful of papers, that were his hospital discharge paperwork.

There were several things on these papers that provided me with crucial information for handling the situation. First, the paperwork was entirely in Spanish. After speaking with the man and seeing this, I knew that English was not his native language. Second, the discharge date on the paperwork was for that day. This man was literally just released from the hospital. Third, the diagnosis on the paperwork read schizoaffective disorder. As I am familiar with this condition, I knew that I had to handle things very delicately.

At this point, he crouched down again with his head in his hands. I took this opportunity to continue our conversation. He told me that his wife didn't love him anymore and that this was the reason he wanted to die. I asked if he had any children. His face lit up as he said yes and he began telling me about his 8-year-old daughter. He showed me the bracelet that she made for him that he was wearing. We talked about how much he loved his daughter and how much she loved him. Together, we identified his daughter as a reason for living.

I told him that I wanted to help him and asked if he felt that he needed help. He looked up at me, with visible pain and tears in his eyes, and said yes. I asked him again if he wanted help, and his response was the same. I informed that I would get him help by calling the police and an ambulance. I asked him if he was okay with that, and he told me that he was. At that point, I finally made the call to 911.

You may think that I am crazy for not calling 911 until now. While I am an educator and a principal, I have a certain amount of ability in mental health, crisis management, and emergency response that not many people have. I needed to get this man to trust me. That was the single most important thing I could do to make that situation better. This situation required specific steps and I needed to make sure that I handled it in a way that I knew would be effective. Once he trusted me, I was able to call for reinforcements to get him the help that he needed.

New Jersey State Police and EMT's arrived on the scene within minutes of the call. I introduced myself to the officers, explained my background in mental health, and the situation at hand. I asked them if it was acceptable for me to stay on scene until he was in the ambulance and stabilized. They were completely fine with that. I have been in situations like this before and I know how unpredictable they are. It was an absolute necessity for me to see this through so that I could offer my knowledge and help, if needed. I was honored that the officers were amenable to me staying and helping. On a side note, I am incredibly grateful to the New Jersey State Police and the EMT's for their professionalism, patience, understanding, and genuine care to get this man the help that he needed. It is a fantastic example of our police officers serving, protecting, and providing compassion to our citizens.

Once my new friend situated himself, he started to walk to the back of the ambulance. Before he began that journey, he stopped and we talked. He reached his hand out to shake my hand and I grabbed and held his hand with both of mine. I urged him to remember his daughter and the love that they had for each other. I reminded him that I care about him, people care about him, and that he cares about himself. He grabbed my hands, with both of his, and thanked me profusely for stopping and talking to him and for helping him. We said our good-byes, I wished him luck, and he walked off to the ambulance.

I have no clue how long this man was on that bridge before I stopped. I couldn't have been the first person to see him laying on top of that guard rail, could I? I know why I stopped. I was meant to stop and help. This man was my responsibility. It was my job to make sure that he made it through this crisis safe, without any further harm. I was in the right place at the right time to do exactly what I did. I was the right person in the right place at the right time for this individual.

I am not special nor am I unique for doing this. I am not sharing this story for accolades or congratulations; rather, my goal is to show that ordinary people do extraordinary things all the time. We all have situations where we have been the right person in the right place at the right time. I would like to encourage everyone to keep this in mind when you find yourself in any type of predicament. Everything that happens does happen for a reason. You have the power and ability to impact this world. In order to do that, you have to acknowledge that you could be called upon at any time to help. You being the right person in the right place at the right time could happen at any point and can occur anywhere. Will you be ready for it when it does? Will you answer the call to serve others, regardless of the level of crisis, and use your powers to better and help others?

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How will you respond to life's most important questions?

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Born and raised in Cumberland County, New Jersey, Sean not only has remained, but has continued to grow with his community. He now resides in the same county with his wife and their two young sons. Sean currently serves as an administrator at Camden’s Promise Charter School, where he focuses on the professional development of teachers and building various social-emotional skills with students. Graduating from Rutgers University with an undergraduate degree in Communication as well as a graduate degree from the University of Scranton in Educational Administration helped open the doors to what has now become nearly a decade long career in education.


 


 


 


As a result of connecting with people everyday of all ages, ethnicities, cultures and beliefs, Sean has learned how to listen and meet the individualized needs of different groups of people. In order to help organize parents and educators to come together in academic spaces, it has required him to search for innovative, functional, and inclusive ways to solve problems.


 


 


 


Despite Sean's childhood aspirations of one day becoming an attorney, he has since become an unwavering advocate for positive youth development and education. Growing up, Sean experienced difficulty financially and emotionally in an unstable household while also battling a sometimes crippling learning disability (ADHD). School became both a place of refuge and a source of trouble for Sean. If not for certain teachers and school faculty encouraging him as a young person, he would not have pursued higher education and would not have been able to impact countless students the way he does today.


 


 


 


Throughout his career as an educator in New Jersey, Sean has based every decision solely on what is best for youth and their futures. He has worked to create new, effective programs as well as supports for students and parents addressing social issues. Sean has demonstrated his student-first approach by never being afraid to privately and publicly question decisions that impact teachers, students, and the educational process. As a result, he has been able to create strong, lasting relationships across our state with the students, families, and communities that he has served.


 


 


 


As a leader in education, Sean has rooted his success in incorporating three major values that he applies to every facet of his life: honesty, integrity, and transparency. All great leaders exhibit honesty regardless of how difficult a situation may be. In these times, we need someone who will honor the trust of their constituents, despite possible backlash. Sean has displayed his commitment to integrity by maintaining a strong moral basis in all decisions, never being swayed by personal gain, and combating corruption wherever it exists. Transparency is also something that is not frequently witnessed in politics. Without it, it is easy for elected officials to lose touch with the people they serve. Having worked in education, Sean understands the power of collective responsibility while encouraging collaboration and the inclusion of diverse opinions to impact change. His unique background matched with his life experiences have allowed him to truly understand the struggles and needs of so many American people.


 


 


 


As the next United States Congressman from the state of New Jersey, Sean promises to apply the most effective policies to positively influence the collective growth of all New Jerseyans and Americans. He intends to only put the best interests of his constituents, state, and country first, regardless of how unpopular that may make him within the political machine. This is how we give politics, power, and our country back to the people. This is how we place our future first.

  • Guest
    Sandy Thursday, 28 July 2016

    Sean, this was such a touching story. Thank you for sharing. Thank you for your example.

  • Sean A. Thom  |  @SeanAThom
    Sean A. Thom | @SeanAThom Sunday, 31 July 2016

    Thank you for taking the time to read and share in my experience Sandy! It was one of those events that changes everyone involved. I am humbled and blessed to have been the right person in the right place at the right time for that man!

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Guest Thursday, 17 August 2017