Victims of assault give thanks, give back

Tom and Mary Kate Flaherty, the owners of Tom & Jerry's Car Wash on Main Street, will donate a portion of sales for the month of December to My Place Teen Center. The couple said they hoped to give back to the Westbrook community that supported them and their business following a robbery in January. 

Closing in on a year since they were assaulted and robbed in their own home, the owners of Tom & Jerry’s Car Wash in Westbrook want to give back to the community that supported them and their business following the ordeal.

In January of this year, Tom and Mary Kate Flaherty heard a knock on their apartment door attached to the business at 307 Main St., and upon answering were immediately assaulted by two males. They were eventually tied up with phone cords and told to face the floor at gunpoint while the pair ransacked their apartment.

“I thought, this is how our lives are going to end,” Tom Flaherty said during an interview Monday.

In the weeks following the attack, they received an oupouring of support. Posts on community Facebook pages urged neighbors to patronize the Flahertys’ car wash. Tom & Jerry’s, which is now in its 50th year, received a boost in business and anonymous cash donations.

The couple also received quick service from the Westbrook Police Department. Jamie Earl Brown, 38, and Russell Ware, 41, both of Westbrook, were arrested only three days after the assault on charges of robbery, criminal restraint, and theft of a firearm. Mary Kate Flaherty said a court date is forthcoming.

Customers who came in for a car wash in those first days after the robbery began handing large tips to the employees, she said. Area organizations reached out, including My Place Teen Center, which invited the Flahertys to dinner.

“The way we were treated after the robbery, it was really overwhelming,” Tom Flaherty said.

Because of the teen center’s compassion, it was first on their list to thank, his wife said. The car wash will donate a portion of its sales to the teen center for the entire month of December.

“That whole staff does a great job,” Tom Flaherty said of the teen center, adding that as they learned more about the organization, the more they wanted to help. “We have to help these kids.”

He said he’s not sure what to expect during the December fundraiser, but he’d like to be able to generate enough to sponsor a teen center member for a year, which the center says costs about $942. With the recent cold weather and dusting of snow, he’s hoping business will pick up. They purchased a large sign to promote the charity drive.

My Place Teen Center often bases its fundraising on individual yearly sponsorships, according to executive director Donna Dwyer. The $942 amount includes 1,300 hours of specialized programming and 260 hot meals, she said.

When they heard about what happened at Tom & Jerry’s, her staff reached out to the Flahertys, Dwyer said. The couple were treated to dinner, and even some prying questions from the teens about their robbery experience.

“We were horrified, and felt badly that they had to endure that, and wanted to open our home up to them,” Dwyer said. “We wanted them to know that people care, even if they don’t know them directly.”

Now that the Flahertys are attempting to return the kindness, Dwyer said its “laudable” and indicitive of a growing number of local businesses that are supporting the teen center.

“It’s really awesome,” she said.

If the fundraiser goes well, the Flaherty’s plan to continue their charity event, perhaps to benefit other regional non-profit’s in the months following.

Next year, Tom & Jerry’s will celebrate its 50th anniversary in Westbrook. The car wash business was started by Flaherty’s father, Tom, in 1967. Flaherty said he’s been working there since he was 16.

“It’s been a roller-coaster ride,” Flaherty said about running a small business for decades.

The robbery this year added a different type of experience to that long history, and one that Flaherty said he never expected.

“It was something out of a movie,” he said. “But we survived it.”

A CLOSER LOOK:

Tom & Jerry’s Car Wash, 307 Main St. in Westbrook, will begin a fundraising drive for My Place Teen Center on Dec. 1. A portion of sales from each car wash will go toward funding a teen center member. For more information, call the business at 854-9131. For more information on the teen center, go to myplaceteencenter.org.

Tom and Mary Kate Flaherty, the owners of Tom & Jerry’s Car Wash on Main Street, will donate a portion of sales for the month of December to My Place Teen Center. The couple said they hoped to give back to the Westbrook community that supported them and their business following a robbery in January.