Becoming A Philanthropist

Published: January 1, 2023 | By: Greater Cedar Rapids Community Foundation | Category:
Photo of Tommy Rhomberg posing with baseball bats he made.

Anyone can be a philanthropist—just ask Tommy Rhomberg. At just 12 years old, he is not thinking about his legacy or his estate plan, and yet, he has found a way to impact those around him.

On August 10, 2020, Tommy was looking forward to his friend’s birthday party later in the week. But by midday, he was huddled in the basement with his family, listening to the sound of trees being snapped by the wind. When they emerged, their Mount Vernon neighborhood was unrecognizable.

“You couldn’t see the road, or even the yard,” Tommy said. “Everything was covered by branches.”

The days that followed were chaotic, but also heartwarming. “The entire town was in cleanup mode,” Tommy’s mother Amanda said. “Everyone was helping everyone. It was really quite nice to see.”

While pitching in, Tommy was also thinking about how he could commemorate his friend’s unforgettable birthday. The storm itself provided some inspiration.

“I wanted to make him some sort of gift,” Tommy said. “His favorite sport is baseball, and when I saw the super straight branch in my yard, I just thought I could carve the perfect baseball bat to give him.”

Progress was slow at first, as Tommy only had simple hand tools, but he was determined. After four days, ten hours of work, and a few blisters, he had the perfect gift. Emblazoned with its own logo, “The Great Derecho” bat was a work of art. Even his parents, who have always known Tommy to be a “builder and a creator,” were amazed.

Then Amanda made a simple social media post that took on a life of its own.

By the next day, the viral post was bringing media attention to the Rhomberg home, and the story was reaching every corner of the nation. People everywhere were impressed by Tommy, but they also wanted bats and were willing to pay.

“I thought if people were interested in buying them, then I would give a portion of the sales to the Community Foundation,” Tommy said. “I just wanted to help people who needed it, and I really thought I might sell 30.”

Tommy knew he couldn’t make more bats without better tools, his parents stepped in to help. The trio set up a website, tracked down a used lathe, and started “hunting” for straight branches among the tons of storm debris. From the very beginning, demand was outpacing supply.

To date, Tommy has made and sold more than 200 bats, raising over $4,000 for the Disaster Recovery Fund. He gave himself a break over the holidays but has another 275 orders to fill in 2021.

Even for those who couldn’t get their hands on a hand-made Tommy Rhomberg bat, the story provided some inspiration. Donors from around the world have made gifts to the Disaster Recovery Fund in Tommy’s name, totaling more than $16,000.

As Tommy’s story continues to be told, and as communities continue long-term recovery efforts, he remains excited about having the chance to help. “I did not expect this at all,” he said. “But I like that I’ve been able to donate so much money. I have learned a lot and it makes me feel good that the money raised is helping people.”

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