Sep. 17—METHUEN — Michael Gorman changed the course of a homeless classmate's life by asking a simple question, something along the lines of, "are you okay?"
In the decade since, Gorman has created a nationally recognized team — including that former classmate, Luis Mateo — to help the homeless, addicted and vulnerable.
Gorman reflected this week, ahead of a celebratory fundraiser scheduled for Saturday, on the defining moment that started his life's work. He couldn't single out one, but instead describes something much bigger.
"I was lucky. I had a support system growing up, mom and dad were both present," the 29-year-old said. "But people around me didn't have that. I decided to create a second family for the ones who needed it most."
And so TMF, The Movement Family, was born. Sheer determination outweighed a clear lack of resources — no money, no roof, no equipment.
Gorman's friends showed up, often with others they knew would benefit. Facebook helped, too.
Quite literally, they ran with the idea of coming together.
"It used to be a workout group. Mondays and Wednesdays we'd run 3 miles together to build determination and stay active," said Gorman, a former senior captain of Methuen's varsity basketball team.
"With no money we did a yard sale, a car wash and a basketball tournament," he said.
All of the money raised was used for local excursions, the type that many members had gone without during their own childhoods.
"Mini golfing, bowling, places they had never been," Gorman said. "Eighteen-year-old kids who had never seen an elephant or a lion at the zoo."
TMF expanded its reach after Gorman graduated college and moved back home to Methuen. Today, the group is most known for its Wednesday night dinners in Lawrence from 8 to 10 p.m. at 2 South Broadway.
The former bus stop is now an empty lot, which Gorman and his partners set up weekly with a buffet-style dinner, tables where professionals offer information on detox services, prayers, haircuts and manicures. The winner of a 'Connect 4' tournament leaves with a gift card.
Today, the same as 10 years ago, most people who show up are from different backgrounds, have different issues, and mostly need somewhere to belong, Mateo explains.
Now 30, employed full-time and able to care for his 10-year-old daughter, Mateo can think of at least two other outcomes if not for TMF.
"I could have gotten into drugs or found bigger troubles roaming the streets," he said. "But I came to know that I have people there for me."
Mateo's home life at 19 didn't help. He describes tensions with an alcoholic stepfather that landed the teen on the street. He found out he was about to become a father soon after.
"Little by little I would tell Michael what was going on. He noticed something was wrong. He said he was there for me," Mateo said. "Even as I told him I was homeless. I walked around the city at night seeing a bunch of stuff going on, prostitution, overdoses, it was driving me crazy."
Gorman's support was constant.
"There were times he would just sit with me at night and talk to me when I was homeless," Mateo said. "There was no reason for him to be there at 2 a.m., but he talked with me on some of my darkest nights."
Similar stories exist among TMF's 375 volunteers, many of whom will reconnect this weekend.
More information about joining the celebration virtually is online. All 240 tickets available to attend in person are sold out.
"I get the spotlight with this stuff, but if it weren't for these members, TMF wouldn't be where it's at now," Gorman said. "We always made it work. The stressful fact of no building, no money, no one teaching us."
What they did have, and still do, however, is love and passion.
"People would be shocked," Gorman said, "at what can be created with that."