Lenoir City native Toni Hoffman in February will celebrate 12 years working as a client services manager for the Good Samaritan Center of Loudon County.
She never expected to spend more than a decade with the nonprofit.
Hoffman retired from Lenoir City Schools before hearing about the opportunity at Good Sam.
“I heard through a friend that I worked with at the school system about a job opening here as a client services manager, and I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve never done anything like that’,” she said. “I just showed up down here one day and was sort of helping Paula (Roach), who was the director at the time. She let me in the back door and I told her what I was here for. I said, ‘I just feel like this is really where I need to be. This is where I’m called to be’.”
Hoffman was hired by the board of directors and expressed a willingness to work for five years and then retire. The additional seven years happened because of her passion to help others. The job requires that she work with Good Sam clients and direct them to help.
“I was born here in Lenoir City and moved to Michigan when I was 7, and we had to be on welfare, what they called it then, for a short time,” Hoffman said. “The lady sitting on the other side of the desk ... made my mom cry. I was a little 7-year-old girl hiding behind my mom’s skirt, and I thought, ‘I don’t ever want to make anybody feel that bad about themselves.’ My mom took their services for one month and swore she’d never do that again, and never did have to, thank the good Lord for that.”
Hoffman used her experience to ensure no one felt the way her mother did when in need of help.
“It’s just that I’ve always wanted to help however way I could, whether it was physically, mentally, talking to people, just being there for people, that sort of thing,” she said.
When Hoffman first started the job, hearing people’s life situations was difficult.
“When someone comes in and they’re needing their medicine, they’re needing their utilities paid, and I’m able to pull that little rabbit out of the hat sort of thing, find another resource for them that maybe could help with that situation — we’ve had folks come in that maybe had a $1,500 utility bill,” Hoffman said. “They’ll come in that last day, ‘I’m going to be cut off at noon today.’ I mean, we have plucked dollars from the Loudon County Baptist Association, St. Vincent de Paul, Salvation Army, Mid-East (Community Action Agency) and between all of us together, that client has left here in tears because their utility bill is paid.
“Or the children that come in, and when they’re called back for the interview, I’ve heard kids say, ‘Does that mean we’re going to have food tonight?’ It breaks your heart,” she added. “When I first started, it was really easy to carry these things home with you and fret over them through the night.”
She now understands she holds the power to make an impact in the community.
“It’s not that I’ve become hardened to it,” Hoffman said. “I think it’s just made me more determined to find a way to help them. I know we can do this. I know that we can make this happen. I think it’s just a drive that’s in me. Where it comes from, I’m not sure.”
As a people-oriented person, Hoffman has been surprised by the generosity those in need can give back to Good Sam. One of her fondest memories is of a woman whose husband had passed away and with the funeral expenses had gotten behind on utility bills. The woman was a first-time client, and the center helped her pay her bill.
“Next month came around, and I never expected to see the lady again, and she came in, and she wanted to speak to me, and she said, ‘I have a dollar’,” Hoffman said tearily. “‘I’d like for you all to have that dollar.’ I said, ‘Please, you use it. You may need it more than we do.’ She said, ‘No. I have a dollar left over. You all were here for me when I needed you, and I’d like to pay this dollar back’.”
Growing and maintaining personal connections with those in need is a part of the job Hoffman does well, Cindy Black, Good Sam executive director, said.
“The client service managers, there’s two of them ... they really keep us in track of what we’re doing with our client and coordinate all of that and keep it going,” Black said. “Toni has been here before I came here, which is the good thing about the client service managers, they’ve seen some of these people over the years, so it’s great to have people that know the clients and can relate to them and know their history so we can better serve the clients.”
Hoffman also helps coordinate a giveaway each new school year that provides 550 backpacks to students across Loudon County. And she participates in the Thanksgiving basket distribution that provides food for those in need at the holiday.
Twelve years later, Hoffman feels satisfied by her time at Good Sam.
“It just all holds a special place in my heart,” she said. “I feel like I’m where God meant for me to be at that particular time in my life, and so far it’s been a good fit. My husband keeps saying, ‘I’ve been retired now for four years. Aren’t you going to retire soon?’ And I said, ‘I’m not ready yet.’ It’s just that kind of thing.”