MENASHA — “If you’re going to church, you may as well do something to serve. I tell others if you start early, it’s the natural thing to do.”
That’s the advice Tom Jensen shares with his children and the students in his faith formation classes at Sacred Heart Parish in Appleton. It is advice that he heard from his own parents growing up in northern Wisconsin.
When someone is hesitant to get involved with serving at Mass, for example, he found it usually was because they were afraid to make a mistake. “I tell them not to worry about that. I’m just glad to see younger people involved. I love being at Mass and seeing kids I had in class come through.”
Jensen has been a catechist for about 10 years and receives great reviews from his colleagues and students. He is also an altar server, lector and extraordinary minister of holy Communion. Over the years, the Jensen family has been involved in the parish’s hospitality ministry and he has served on both the parish and finance councils at Sacred Heart.
Professionally he also works with young people. He is a youth care specialist with Outagamie County in Appleton. He works in shelter care, a non-secure detention center for young people with family or school issues. “Usually there is some minor criminal activity involved,” he said. “The kids have a social worker and are not in enough trouble to go to jail. Shelter care gets them out of the home for a few days.” He has been with Outagamie County for more than 19 years.
Jensen grew up in Pelican Lake, near Antigo and Rhinelander. He has an associate degree in police science from Nicolet Area Technical College, Rhinelander. “I found I didn’t want to be a cop. What I really wanted to do was work with kids,” he said, and transferred to the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire for a criminal justice degree.
He also works part-time with Outagamie County Family Services. “Mostly I work with fatherhood stuff,” he said. “I teach a class for new dads and run a play group for kids and parents. My wife, Lori, works for family services so our family volunteers for their functions.”
Family is central to Jensen’s life. The Jensens are Menasha residents. Tom and Lori have been married for nearly 22 years. Their twin daughters, Abby and Hannah, are ready to head for college in the fall and son, Wil, is a seventh grader at Maplewood Middle School, Menasha.
As Jensen talks about his passion for ministry, he begins with Scripture — Joshua 24:15: “If you are not willing to serve him, decide today whom you will serve. … As for my family and me, we will serve the Lord.”
“That’s the way our family operates. It’s the way I grew up. I believe we do what we can to serve the Lord and he will take it from there,” he said.
He said his motivation comes from simply loving to help people. “That’s why I got into the job I did. I want to help kids make better decisions for themselves. It’s also why I look to volunteer. I know working with teens isn’t for everyone. It’s the kind of personality you have.”
The reward, he said, is seeing people enjoy themselves. “If I can help them to do that, it’s worth it. I love to see people smile.”
When giving advice to those thinking about volunteering, Jensen said, “I say it’s a lot less scary than it seems. There are always people there to help you, to direct you. Just say, ‘I’m here to help’ and someone will tell you what to do.”