From streets to bridges: Once homeless Euless man’s nonprofit offers hope to others

Kenny Thomison (left) is founder and president of Building Bridges Life Restoration Center in Euless. He and his nonprofit organization are dedicated to helping individuals and families such as Jadrea and Daniel (last names not revealed) and their young child. (Photo by Londyn May)

Kenny Thomison knows a lot about streets and bridges. And no, he’s not an engineer.

He once lived on the streets, and today he is helping others get away from that life as the founder and president of Building Bridges Life Restoration Center in Euless.

Thomison’s story is a familiar one. He suffered from addiction at an early age (15), which led to a life of ups and downs, losing one job after another, losing family ties, and finally losing all hope and even the will to live.

“I had tried everything, I thought. Rehab, prayer, 12 step groups,” Thomison recalls. “Nothing seemed to work. Finally by the year 2000 I gave up on life completely and began living on the streets. My life was consumed by ‘just one more.’ Day-in and day-out I used drugs constantly, basically waiting to die.”

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In 2006 Thomison almost got his wish. He experienced a septic infection that left him clinically dead.

“The doctor came into my room and said, ‘I have to turn off the machines now and you will either stabilize or die,'” Thomison remembered. “He assured me that if I lived it was not because of anything he had done.

“Well here I am.”

Thomison took that as a sign that there must be something ahead in his life worth living for, and not just for himself. He decided he was no longer going to waste his time on earth flirting with death as he had been doing, but instead would begin working to keep others from going where he had been.

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“As a result of what I believe was a divine intervention, I walked off of the streets in late 2006 and have never looked back,” he said. “When I got off the streets I had a friend that owned a freight business and he hired me as a driver. I was so grateful for an opportunity to get my life back that I was soon a key employee in his business.”

Thomison also began to understand that he could play a key role in changing the lives of others.

“I realized there must be other people out there who have just lost hope and need someone to believe in them,” he said.

So Thomison set out to build his own life back to stability, putting himself in a position to start providing such help. Now, at age 63, he’s happily married to his wife Tanya, with a son, daughter and two stepsons.

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And he is running a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization, complete with a board of directors and a host of volunteers, all with a mission to bring others into a better life.

As the organization wraps up its first year, Building Bridges is helping the homeless in a variety of ways – providing meals, clothing, hygiene products, sleeping bags, tents, virtually anything they may need, including assistance in finding temporary housing during inclement weather through the shelter system in Fort Worth.

“We are currently renovating an RV to use as transitional housing,” Thomison said. 

Thomison calls every person on the street his “friend,” and just like a friend would do, he seeks out every possible way to help men and women who show a desire to change their lives and re-enter society, providing spiritual counseling, life skills development, personal mentoring and job placement assistance.

Examples of Building Bridges’ success include finding jobs for friends as parking attendants at the Larry Joe Taylor Music Festival in Stephenville in late April and helping set up and take down for Fourth of July fireworks in Arlington. The organization also signed a contract with the Arlington Music Hall to have friends clean once a week.

“At the end of the (music festival) we were told that our friends provided the best experience for guest parking since the festival’s beginning 30 years ago,” Thomison said.

And yes, Thomison allows himself to get close to those he’s helping. After all, who would know more about their situation and desire for happiness than he does?

“Recently, I was present at the birth of one of our young couple’s first child. I was asked to walk the young lady down the aisle and witness them being married,” he said, adding that the renovated RV will, in fact, be that young couple’s first home.

Thomison said the name Building Bridges comes from an old gospel song.

“It is the perfect name for what we do. We build bridges – not only to bring the homeless back into society but also to bring society to the street,” he said. “Many members of society have a harsh view of homelessness, and we have begun to chip away at that image. These are sons and daughters, moms and dads, some very educated and others just extremely talented.”

Thomison said the organization’s only requirement of those it helps is a true desire to change.

“But even if they don’t want to change we still provide love and compassion,” he said.

The ever-humble Thomison is reluctant to take credit for himself, saying “God has been so good to me.”

And, despite some physical challenges, he trudges forward with his mission. In 2008 he was diagnosed with throat cancer, but beat it and has been cancer-free since 2009. In 2015, because of radiation damage, he had to have his jaw reconstructed and has been on a feeding tube ever since.

But, if you ask him about this, he will reply that there are many others facing bigger challenges.

“Through all of this God has never left me, and he continues to bless me with the strength to endure what life throws at me,” he said. “I have a group of men and women that society has counted out, but they love me and I love them. I get the privilege of watching their lives change right before my eyes.”

Thomison said Building Bridges does not receive any money from county or state governments, relying solely on the contributions of individuals and local businesses in the private sector.

No one in the organization, including Thomison, receives a salary. He is currently driving rideshare to pay his own family’s bills and to help raise what he can for Building Bridges. Tanya works in the Grapevine-Colleyville School District as an attendance secretary.

“Changing lives costs money, and so far we have managed to bootstrap this ministry but we really want to do so much more,” he said. “There are more people than there are beds to put them in. The resources that our shelter system has are overtaxed and difficult to navigate.”

One way Building Bridges generates funding is through events. For example, a golf tournament will be held at The Golf Club Fossil Creek on Oct. 7. The tournament will raise money to go toward increasing food and clothing programs, as well as purchasing a minibus to transport friends back and forth to work sites.

“We have grown so much in our first year that it’s hard to believe, but there is still a long way to go,” Thomison said. “We hope eventually to gain funding to buy a facility that will house clients really looking to change their lives as we work with them on a path to do just that.”

For more information and to learn how you can get involved, visit the Building Bridges website.