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Wesley House searches for new leader

By Annette Bender

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.– Three years after his arrival at Wesley House, Leroy Thompson officially stepped down from his post as executive director on Jan. 2.

The former NFL running back announced his decision to give up leadership of the inner-city ministry in mid-November 2002.

"Let me set the record straight. I am not leaving or resigning from the Wesley House," Thompson told The Call on Jan. 8.

"I like to call it 'transitioning.' I will be joining the executive directors of the Wesley House and continuing to play a very formal, committed, vocal and visible role in relationship to a great ministry."

The Rev. Pat Polis, pastor at New Life United Methodist Church in Knoxville, is serving as interim director until a new leader can be named.

Thompson – who helped Wesley House more than triple its income from $200,000 in 1999 to $700,000 in 2002 – said he had accepted a partnership in a local commercial development firm.

"I'm going to start my own company with 51 percent ownership," he said in a telephone interview. "The goal is to build a company with the type of assets that can gird a ministry like the Wesley House."

A native of Knoxville, Thompson attended Austin-East High School where he became a football standout. He earned a bachelors degree in speech communications at Penn State University while playing as a running back under Coach Joe Paterno.

After playing professionally for the Pittsburgh Steelers, Thompson returned to Knoxville. His first day at Wesley House was Jan. 1, 2000. In his threeyear stint, fulltime staff increased from two to 15. The number of children participating in the after-school and performing arts programs increased from 25 to 85.

Wesley House, originally established as a day care for working parents in 1907, also offers programs for single parents and seniors, Polis said. Thompson said he was often frustrated by trying to raise funds for Wesley House in a region where priorities are sometimes misplaced.

"Obviously, we're not lacking for resources," he said. "We lack in deciding what's important. Convention centers, golf courses, UT football, investment into programs that are not amounting to a hill of beans – all of these things I watch millions of dollars go to. To not be able to conjure that type of support and commitment while we watch our kids be lost to the street everyday is a frustration."

Thompson said he hoped to "take the gifts the Lord has blessed me with and go build a company that could futuristically help gird the work I enjoy doing. "I have to go build assets first before I can give them away," he added. "Obviously, it's going to take several years to build that type of business."

Wesley House's board of directors, staff and Holston leaders were surprised by Thompson's decision, Polis said.

"He's an incredible person and he loves these children," he said.

Polis, who has been a member of Wesley House's board of directors for two years, said that 60 resumes had been collected in the search for a director. He declined to say whether he is a candidate.

"I'm helping them to keep the focus by carrying the baton from the outgoing executive director and handing it to the incoming executive director," he said. Wesley House's search committeee expects to choose a new leader in four to six weeks, Polis said on Jan. 8.


9915 Kingston Pike, Suite C | Knoxville, TN 37922
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