‘Team Thomas’ is formed to help local disabled veteran

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DENVER -- The Marine Corps taught Thomas Downing a lot.

“Aside from 'Semper fidelis,' the motto is 'adapt and overcome.' So I’m just well-adjusted to try to do everything on my own," he said.

But this past week has taught him how much to community cares and is willing to help.

It started when Downing posted a request on Nextdoor. He needed a ride to a job interview. His neighbors and complete strangers offered rides, clothes, food and advice.

“People are still texting, calling, messaging me. It’s amazing what can we do. It’s just been so amazing the outpouring and everyone has their own idea and way they can help," Kira Baldwin said.

Downing needed some legal help and several lawyers reached out to volunteer their services.

“It was posted in my neighborhood Nextdoor. Everyone was donating food, clothes and giving him rides. I said, 'I can do that, but maybe he could use some legal help.' I posted a comment and said, 'I work for the Colorado Bar, if you need legal help, this is what I do.' Here we are a week later, helping him on two different issues, excited to immediately helping him," Carolyn Gravit said.

Gravit founded "Colorado Lawyers for Colorado Veterans" several years ago.

“If they don’t get the proper help, it can affect their entire life, even from getting a license, to employment, the list goes on and on," she said. "My grandfather was a World War II veteran and probably my biggest idol. He was a hero in my life. I wanted to do something for veterans that don’t qualify for legal aid. We wanted to serve the veterans like they served us. It started by a very small clinic, probably had three to four veterans. Now, we have over 300 attorney volunteers who take cases pro bono or reduced rate cases. We have served thousands of veterans, even if they just come in and sit with an attorney for a few minutes, the attorneys just listen to the veterans. If they need help, they will be assigned pro bono or reduced-rate attorney.”

Downing was also connected with Timothy Franklin from the University of Denver Law School and the Veterans Advocacy Program.

"If they went and fought for us and they come back and they’re not getting health and their life’s going wrong because of something we sent them to do, we should try to make them at least in the same footing as someone who did not go fight a war. There are so many local lawyers [who] are bending over backwards to either offer free representation for  veterans that need it or low cost or get them going in the right direction," Franklin said.

Both Gravit and Franklin have confidence that Downing can recover from the difficult times he’s experienced.

"He would figure it out eventually, but I hope we can help him get there a little faster, which is the way it is with most veterans that we see," Franklin said.

"The things they see and deal with, they just need a little extra help to get back on their feet. I think that’s really where we are with Thomas. I think we’ve given him a little break. Our whole neighborhood is helping," Gravit said.

“He really wants to help himself more than anybody wants to help him," Kira Baldwin said.

He is grateful for everything everyone has done. He said, “We all need help sometimes. It’s difficult for me to ask for help. But it’s great, it’s supportive and doesn’t make you any less of a person. I just need guidance, if you can guide me, please do. I don’t want to end up in a bad place. One thing marines don’t do is give up.”

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