Mindy Small, FilmMagic
"When I go and visit a facility and do what I was allowed to do today, it really does make me feel like I'm doing what I'm supposed to be doing," Jimmy tells The Boot. "I do it because I truly enjoy being part of change in somebody's life, especially youth."
Jimmy knows from personal experience the kind of impact someone can have on a young person's life. It was 20 years ago when Jody Lee Hagar, an inmate from the prison in Dallas, North Carolina, came to speak at Jimmy's school and inspired him buy a guitar at a garage sale and learn to play. This Saturday, he'll perform on the Opry with Jimmy, singing "For Days Like This," an original Christmas song Jody performed 20 years ago in front of Jimmy's class.
"Recently I started thinking about Christmas songs and that song he played in front of my high school," Jimmy says. "I hadn't talked to him in 20 years, but I wondered what he was doing and went online to find him. I found his cell number on the Internet and called. He answered the phone and couldn't believe it at first."
A couple weeks later, Jimmy was performing in North Carolina and he invited Jody to join him. "The minute we reunited, it was something else to see the guy who inspired me to do what I do for the first time in 20 years," says Jimmy. "I went from being this kid working in a textile factory and trying to finish school to playing Madison Square Garden and recording with Hall & Oates and having some success. A lot has happened in 20 years and it all started with Jody and that inspiration. He just got up and shared his story. He probably never thought in a million years he'd have such an enormous effect on someone's life."
Jody's own life has been a rocky road. Though he signed a publishing deal and landed a recording contract, he wound up back in prison and lost his shot at a music career. Now he's gotten his life back on track and thanks to Jimmy, he'll fulfill a long time dream when he performs on the Opry. "I'm really good at documenting and taking pictures," Jimmy says. "I'm going to document everything for him and I'm going to try to soak up every piece of the experience that night. How many of us every get a chance to say thanks to our heroes?"
Jimmy hopes that by sharing his story with the boys at Monroe Harding, he can help inspire them the way Jody inspired him 20 years ago. And for those who might want to learn to play guitar, Jimmy's friend Travis Perry of Chord Buddy donated 25 guitars to the boys at the school.
"One of those boys just might end up being president or the next hit songwriter," Jimmy says. "You never know who you're talking to."
The singer-songwriter has been visiting Monroe Harding and donating time to help the kids for eight years. It was also the place he chose to begin the Meet Me Halfway campaign on New Year's Day 2010 when he began walking from Nashville to Phoenix to raise awareness for children who are aging out of the foster care system and facing homelessness.
"It's cool to know you're helping," Jimmy says of spending time with the kids at Monroe Harding. "It really means a lot. I enjoy that way more than I do playing on any stage. I played Madison Square Garden and that was cool, but whose life was changed? When I go someplace like Monroe Harding and I'm sitting in a conference room with 25 kids and there's no spotlights, I'm just doing what I do. It's so much more fulfilling to me. Don't get me wrong. I enjoyed the Garden, but why can't we do both? We should be able to do both."