Community

40 years of helping at Tara Hall in Georgetown

Jim Dumm has the stories of 600 boys running through his head.

There was Norman, who was given a drum set for Christmas one year much to the chagrin of his housemates; Jimmy, who came back to Tara Hall and now works for the place that was once his home; Arthur, who jumped in the river his first day at the school, despite not knowing how to swim and had to be pulled out; Travis, who would stand outside and throw knives at trees; and on and on.

Dumm has been working for Tara Hall for almost all of its history and knows the stories of the several hundred boys who have come to live there since its founding in 1970 by Father Owen O'Sullivan.

This weekend, the home is celebrating 40 years of helping the community. But 39 years ago, the home almost shut its doors for good.

Dumm, who started working at Tara Hall shortly after it opened, said that in 1971 the school had "24 kids and $200 in the bank. Father O'Sullivan was calling families and organizations telling them to find another place for their boy."

Then help came in the form of Jean Yawkey, the wife of former Boston Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey, Dumm said. The Yawkeys eventually also bought the land for the current campus of the school.

And now, though Tara Hall is far from closing, Dumm hopes the celebration will remind the community of the school and its mission.

"We're not very good at keeping ourselves in the public eye," he said, and private donations, which are the majority of the school's funding, have dropped in recent years.

He said the school has had to dip into its savings to meet its $850,000 budget for this year and the staff has been reduced from 18 full-time workers to 10 full-time and four part-time workers.

"We're just about breaking even," he said.

As it has with other nonprofit groups, the recession has hit the private donors who make up 85 percent of the school's funding, Dumm said.

"We've seen $5,000 donations turn into $500 or $1,000 donations," he said.

And, for the first time in the school's history, the board has hired a fundraising consultant to help come up with new ways to raise money.

Dumm said he, and members of the board, decided it was time to "show the place off."

And with houses by the water, a slide into the river, a wooden platform bridge leading from the school to the dining hall and a dining hall with panoramic views of the woods surrounding the Black Mingo Creek, there's a lot to see.

Boys ages 6 to 12 are referred to Tara Hall. Some have problems in school and others have problems with their parents, but they're all welcome at the school next to cotton fields in Georgetown County.

Dumm said the school gets referrals from the Department of Social Services and other state organizations, but the school exists to try to help kids stay out of the system.

"We always wanted to be open to the single mom with kids," he said.

One of the kids who grew up at Tara Hall, Jimmy Lee, decided to come back as an adult to work with the kids.

He said he "didn't count the days" he was there growing up, but the majority of his adolescence was spent in the Red Cabin. And he's been working there for 13 or 14 years now, he said.

Lee said he was lucky to be placed at Tara Hall.

"There's a lot more places that would have been worse," he said.

These days, he works to help the kids at Tara Hall develop good habits.

"Give them everything I learned," he said.

Saturday's 40th anniversary celebration isn't a fundraiser, but Dumm said he hopes it will serve to "remind people we're here and that we need help."

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