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Taking Steps to Help Kids at Orangewood

TIMES STAFF WRITER

When he was 5, Tom Jones began karate training with his father--a martial arts expert and Episcopal minister.

The grueling, two-hour sessions included forced one-mile runs and hand-eye coordination drills. But they also degenerated into a ritualized violence that included daily beatings.

Each session meant fending off his father’s angry blows, and by age 8, Jones had suffered such severe punishment that the courts ordered him into the protection of a Masonic group home in Covina, where he remained until he was 18.

Now 35, the three-time national kick-boxing champion, fourth-degree black belt in karate and former sparring partner of actor Chuck Norris plans to use his physical prowess to help children who also have been abused.

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On April 15, Jones will embark on a 1,500-mile run along the California coast, starting at the Oregon border and ending July 4 in Tijuana. His goals are to raise $250,000 for Orangewood Children’s Home, the county shelter for abused and neglected children, and to put the plight of abused children on the map.

“My childhood was so tough, it was hell,” Jones said. “I got pounded by my dad, and my parents divorced when I was about 5 or 6, so I never really had a family. I know what these kids go through, living their whole lives in an institution, because that’s what happened to me.”

Jones, whose father died while the boy was still in the group home, stuck with the training rituals even after being declared a ward of the state.

“I thought that everyone practiced standing on one foot and fighting because that’s all I knew,” he said.

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His father’s legacy of brutality laid the foundation for his athleticism, but as an adult he has gained some perspective on his father’s violence.

“I wouldn’t want to walk one day in his shoes,” Jones said. “He had cancer, kidney disease and tuberculosis. He knew he was dying and was going to put me in the Masonic home anyway when the police came and took me away.”

After leaving the home Jones joined the Marine Corps, where he excelled.

His ascent in the world of martial arts was steady, and the business he operated--personal training--took off. Brandi, his wife of 18 months and a former model, was one of his clients.

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“When he told me he was going to do this, at first I thought ‘What? You’re going to do what?’ But every time there’s any setback, he steps up to the plate and makes it happen,” she said. “I’m so proud of him.”

The idea for the run came after Jones visited Orangewood. The shelter frequently invites former foster kids to speak, and after such a visit, Jones approached Gene Howard, executive director of the Orangewood Children’s Foundation, a nonprofit group that raises funds for the county shelter.

“He’s an amazing young man and an incredible testimony to what can happen if you give these kids a chance,” Howard said. “Tom, through his own personal courage and help from others in the community, became a giving, caring individual who wants to make a difference.”

Orangewood, which was built to accommodate 236 children, averages about 250 children and occasionally has a population of 290, Howard said.

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Several corporate sponsors are involved with the run, but major support has come primarily from two sources: computer industry powerhouse Viking Components, a memory and modem manufacturer in Rancho Santa Margarita, and the Masons.

Jones was the personal trainer for Glenn McCusker, the owner and CEO of Viking Components, and his wife, April. The couple became friends and mentors to Jones.

The McCuskers, well known in Orange County charitable circles, helped Jones through drug addiction and through his childhood scars.

“They literally put me through rehab,” Jones said. “They also showed me something I’d never seen before, a functional family where the parents and children are happy.”

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Viking Components is a regular contributor to Orangewood and last year donated about $100,000 to the shelter.

Jones said he turned to the Masons because he knew they would be a natural source of support.

“I knew there’s a lot of them and that they were good people--because they raised me,” he said.

The Masons helped defray start-up costs and publicity expenses for the run.

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“We consider him one of our kids and want to support him,” said Dale Ankney, administrator of the Masonic Homes of California in Covina, where Jones grew up.

Jones will stop at 40 Masonic lodges along his route to speak about child abuse.

Until the run, Jones and his wife will spend their days finalizing details for it. Jones rises at 3:30 every morning and runs daily to practice for the three-month endeavor.

“God has told me to do this, so I am,” Jones said. “Child abuse is an epidemic--people have got to know that and they’ve got to stop hitting their kids.”

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Donations for the run can be sent to the Orangewood Children’s Foundation, 12822 Garden Grove Blvd., Garden Grove, CA 92840. Information: (714) 741-9370.


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