What drives a recovering substance abuser from the Bronx to become an inspiration to hundreds of backstretch workers?
What drives a person to work seven days a week and put his own personal needs second to the needs of others?
What drives a person to be available 24 hours a day earning a wage that barely pays the bills?
The answer is faith, hope and a belief in God.
FHBPA Chaplain Tom LaPointe, as a young man found his faith in God while struggling to stay clean from substance abuse issues. Tom’s life was adrift and it was through a chance meeting with a friend, who was a recovering alcoholic, that brought him in contact with his new found faith. With this new outlook, serenity and peace in his heart, he became the person who would dedicate his life reaching out to help others in need. Chaplain Tom, now 64, with his strong New York accent, openly shares his life story as an inspiration and testament that there is hope through faith.
Years ago, while visiting the backside of the race track for the first time, Tom observed a groom struggling with what appeared to him to be some sort of substance abuse issue. After this visit and being moved by what he observed, Chaplain Tom felt there was a need to reach out to backside workers. Realizing that substance abuse is not only a street problem, he started to talk to people on the backstretch sharing his story of recovery and redemption through faith.
Eventually, Tom became the Chaplain for Gulfstream, Calder and Palm Meadow training center. His duties now include his ministry, providing health care, alcohol and substance abuse programs, counseling, sports programs, funerals, social events and transportation for backstretch employees. His chaplaincy is funded primarily by the FHBPA, Gulfstream Park and donations from various sources.
His staff of fellow chaplains, Alberto Grimaldi, Guillermo Fernandez and Fernando Roman work as a team to make sure all three facilities receive services from his ministry.
Up to the task and pushed to the brink of exhaustion, Tom and his staff worked tirelessly in providing food, water and assistance to the backside help after Hurricane Irma passed. He and his staff dropped off pallet after pallet of food, water and other supplies by hand, while driving an econovan with 200,000 miles. Nearly all of these supplies were donated because of Tom and his staff’s efforts to find and procure them.
Chaplain Tom is a “get it done, go to” type of guy. Seemingly no problem on the backside is outside of what he is willing to tackle. He speaks openly of his gratitude for the positive presence God has made in his life, while sharing those feelings with others. His journey has been a long and arduous road that he willingly and openly shares if asked. When asked what motivates him to put his needs behind others, Chaplain Tom said, “God called and wanted me to speak to the people.”
The racing community in South Florida is blessed and fortunate to have him.
The FHBPA is blessed to have him.
(Heidi Betrock contributed to this column)