Guitar-strumming youth raises money to help house poor

TENNESSEE — Armed with a guitar and a repertoire of songs from the 60s, a junior from McCallie High School raised $3,200 to build a home and bathroom for a family in Nicaragua, and he is well on his way to building another.

Jimmy Tobin, an alumnus of St. Andrew School in Myrtle Beach, sings for tips every Friday and Saturday night outside the Bijou Cinema in Chattanooga, Tenn., where he attends a private boarding school on an academic scholarship.

Yes, he’s talented, smart and caring.

Jimmy said he was inspired one day in church by a speaker from Food for the Poor, who described the terrible living conditions of people in third-world countries.

“I never knew people could live like that,” he said.

Jimmy said it was the perfect opportunity for him because he had been searching for some way to help others, and now he had it.

“I wanted to have a goal that I could work toward and achieve,” he said. “I knew I could help.”

Food for the Poor is a charity that feeds millions of people in the Caribbean and Latin America. The organization provides homes, clean water, medicine, educational materials, support for orphans and the aged, skills training and emergency relief, according to Jennifer Oates, a company spokesperson.

Jimmy said he chose Nicaragua because that country has a matching donation program, so he could help two families for the price of one.

Nobody who knows Jimmy is surprised by his ambition or generosity.
Molly Halasz, principal of St. Andrew School, said he is “one of the finest students” she has had. By middle school Jimmy had completed all the math classes they could provide, so he started taking on-line courses from Stanford University during math class, she said.

Now at McCallie, Jimmy still takes college math classes and plans to major in math and medicine. When asked if he ever considered music as a profession, the whiz kid laughed and said his mother “would not enjoy that.”

Jimmy does hope to combine music and medicine by specializing in research that focuses on music as a healer. He said he has already read several books on the subject and meditates daily to its soothing tones.

His parents, Mary and Thomas Tobin, are understandably proud, although his mother said they had no idea what he was up to for the longest time.

“I was stunned,” she said. “He and I were at church together one weekend when I was visiting, and a missionary was there speaking from Food for the Poor, and I wasn’t really listening,” she admitted with a laugh, “but Jimmy really listened and he was so touched by it.”

At first, Jimmy wanted to donate the money anonymously, but his older brother Tommy convinced him to publicize his actions as a way to inspire others, Mrs. Tobin said.

Now when he strums for tips outside the movie theater, he displays photos of the two families he has helped, along with a running tally of how close he is to building another home and latrine in Nicaragua. So far he has $1,500, Jimmy said.

The 17-year-old also visits other schools where he plays guitar and tells the students how easily they can help. Just $3 can feed a child for an entire month, he said. For Americans, that’s the price of about four sodas.

During his recent spring break, Jimmy visited St. Michael in Garden City and inspired his alma mater, St. Andrew, to include Food for the Poor in their next charitable campaign, Halasz said.

“Instead of doing crazy things, he’s doing these things to help others,” Mrs. Tobin said. “He’s really a nice boy.”

“My mother doesn’t like to talk about me,” Jimmy noted with wry good humor.

Mrs. Tobin attributes the empathy evident in both her sons to their own family misfortune. Their father was diagnosed with a chronic, debilitating neurological illness when the boys were only six and three. Over the years, they watched their father deteriorate physically but remain spiritually strong, she said.

“He really feels for people. He sees what we go through,” Mrs. Tobin said of Jimmy’s crusade. “He’s giving it to God.”