It's easy to feel at ease with Chris and Julie Thomson. In their kindness they offer coffee, take their time to hear about the little things, and in just a few minutes you feel at home. You feel heard. Like they really are listening, giving you attention as if yours are the only words to hear in that moment. Their care is the kind that they practice, every day, with the people in their circle. Even more warming is the heart behind their work in the community; work that stems from love, empathy and experience.
Most people know Chris as the chairman of the board at the Chamber of Commerce, but long before becoming involved in the chamber, Chris was working as an assistant in geriatric physical therapy. Before that, he worked as a medic in the Navy. Both experiences would shape and provide training for work in caretaking, before the thought of such an opportunity was even considered.
When work in the medical field began to change (as it seems to do regularly), Chris found himself changing with it. Experience with his own aging family members, combined with his unique training, was forcing the Thomson family to recognize the gaping need for quality care for the aging. Allowing for transition and change, instead of resisting, Chris went where the need was greatest. Having recognized a hole, Chris’ response was simple: Fill it. And Family First Adult Family Homes were founded.
The first eight years of Family First would result in the founding of five adult care homes. With four bedrooms, two shared and two private, each home was structured in such a way as to provide specialized personal care. These adult homes lived up to their names in that they weren’t facilities disguised as homes, they were just homes. The Thomsons actually lived in the first two residences before converting them. Such a setting allowed for a feeling of family, with care founded in a network of communication that guaranteed holistic attention. The idea was to mirror the care that the Thomson family has shown, and continues to show, to each other. By allowing for the residences to grow naturally according to a rule of love, instead of money, the Thomsons were successful in doing what they set out to do: to make the last few years as good as they possibly could be.
By the end of fourth year, Julie also quit her job to join Chris in what had become a duel effort. The shift was exactly what Family First needed. Agilely taking over management of operations, Julie’s support allowed for Chris to invest his time in what mattered most—the people. And so it grew. Julie continued to aid in the adjustment of staff and communication, as needed for each resident, making even stronger the cohesive network of relationships between staff, management, doctors, the public and residents. Chris would even go on to say that the support of the staff is the lifeblood of First Family homes, whose everyday care allows for comfort of both family and residents.
When there was a financial need, it was navigated. When there was a medical need, it was attended to. From the everyday activities, such as meals, to the more complex needs of the heart, Family First sought to bring solidarity. At Family First Chris and Julie were, and are, learning every day.
Most importantly, Chris and Julie were listening. Listening to the needs, the worries, fears and the joys of the people in their care. When they came across a need they couldn’t answer, they would reach out to their community to find someone who could. Over the years strong relationships had been formed, all to give the people who live in their homes additional resources. The work Chris would do in Family First naturally spanned beyond the homes to include other health-care professionals, businesses, financial professionals and community members.
Now, on its 20th anniversary, there are six Family First Adult Family Homes. Julie is present on the board of two different nonprofits, the AWOB (Alliance of Woman Owned Business) and Aging Smart (a nonprofit providing education and resources on aging wisely). The staff at Family First has successfully mirrored Chris’ personal attention such that their everyday work has become the foundation of everything that Family First stands for—care.
And Chris, he’s still very involved in the everyday care of the people in his homes. Relationships forged through there allowed for a natural involvement in the Chamber of Commerce. Now the chairman of the board, Chris contributes to the health of the community as a whole with the same attention that he has always brought to his homes.
By joining the commerce Chris was able to further his connections with the community, giving back to it what it had given to him and the people of Family First. Ensuring that Gig Harbor would continue to grow and thrive, caring for its own by the support of shared resources and genuine relationship. People caring for people. Supporting each other from little to plenty. Enriched through care and sharing in empathy, from the days of childhood wrapped in the arms of our parents to old age where we finally appreciate an attentive ear.