At first glance, his name tag says it all: Mo Ghaffarian, Maintenance Manager.
His job is to repair anything and everything that breaks at Sunnybrook, a transitional living home that supports and guides foster adolescents in Mississippi. After nearly 60 years of service, many of the facilities and amenities there are held together by his creativity.
Whether it’s patching up a leaky sink or replacing a faulty car generator, Ghaffarian does his job well and loves what he does. Yet, beyond the tools and supplies, Ghaffarian has his own troubled past, which has given him the wisdom and patience to help repair the shattered youth he serves.
Ghaffarian knows what it takes to overcome adversity.
Born and raised in Iran, he was 23 years old when the Iranian Revolution broke out in 1979. Determined to leave the country for a better life, he hoped to follow his brother and find refuge in the United States.
At the time, the U.S. embassy in Tehran was closed, but the Philippine embassy was open, so Ghaffarian got out of war-torn Iran, bound for the Philippines. Unfortunately, he was unable to secure employment there and struggled to support himself.
"After a year and a half of living in the Philippines, I moved to America to live near my older brother who had recently moved to Mississippi from Texas,” Ghaffarrian recalled. “It was not easy to get a visa to come to the United States. It was a miracle that I was able to move here - I was very thankful to move to the United States.”
He reunited with his brother and settled down in Madison, Mississippi, where he worked and put himself through college. He met his wife while working as a waiter at the Cisco Cafe, and they married three months later.
After graduating college, he and his brother opened an autobody and paint shop. For more than 30 years, he worked in the automotive and home-building industries.
During this time his family grew. He and his wife raised five beautiful children: Nadia, Camron, Sara, Patrick, and Parker. They now have eight grandchildren, and he enjoys spending time with them when he isn’t fixing things at Sunnybrook.
Retirement just didn’t work for somebody with so much left to give.
Mo was first introduced to Sunnybrook when a friend recommended he apply for the maintenance manager position on campus. He was intrigued by the opportunity to inspire kids who had never had many of the life lessons we take for granted.
He decided to apply and was hired the next day.
“I use my skills as an experienced mechanic and builder in my current position at Sunnybrook.” Ghaffarian explained. “But the years of working long, hard hours and dealing with the public have also helped me in my current job.”
A natural teacher, Ghaffarian finds little ways to impart big life lessons - usually within the context of a repair job.
“When I came to Sunnybrook, I saw these kids needed some help. Aside from what I do to repair problems, I had an opportunity to teach these kids what I know and they were interested to learn. I ask for their help, and they help me.”
That’s where the healing begins.
Not every teen is exposed to essential life skills at home, and the teens at Sunnybrook appreciate the opportunity to learn them from Ghaffarian. Many are grateful for the time and energy he invests in them.
Sunnybrook graduate Larry Owen considers Ghaffarian an invaluable teacher and mentor.
“I met Mr. Mo on my first day at Sunnybrook. I’ll never forget I had some Air Jordan 6 sneakers on because I didn’t think I would have to work that day, but Mr. Mo had me pressure wash [while standing in the mud]. I basically ruined those brand-new Jordan 6’s that I just got,” Owen said with a hint of a smile.
“Mr. Mo is a cool guy, a very good mentor,” Owen continued. “He’s been through a lot, and he will teach you a lot. He was a mentor to me because of what he has been through, his ambitions and goals. I have the same drive and determination he does.”
The day Owen earned his GED he wasted no time sharing the good news with his mentor.
“He showed me his diploma and he was so happy,” Ghaffarian recalled. “It felt like one of my own kids graduating from college. When I saw in his face how proud he was I said, ‘You did it!’”
Owen responded: “I promised you, remember? I said, ‘I'm going to do it, Mr. Mo.’ And I did it!”
“I’ve got a good feeling he’s going to make it,” Ghaffarian said, referring to Owen. “He is a great guy, a hard-working kid. I tell these kids nothing comes easy. You have to sacrifice sometimes and work hard to get what you want.”
“I love seeing the smiles on their faces when I am able to teach them different skills, such as car maintenance, driving, and how to do basic things around the house. I am so happy I am able to make a difference in their lives,” Ghaffarian said.
Six years into his time at Sunnybrook, Mo and the rest of the staff continue to find little ways to teach life lessons and help repair bigger problems.
"I see the staff working together as a big family and working hard to provide the best for the children,” Ghaffarian said “You can tell everyone really cares about the kids. Their hard work motivates me to work just as hard as they do.
“Working at Sunnybrook makes me feel like my life is not only mine, but I get to share it with others. At the end of the day, I am very proud to be part of the Sunnybrook family. I love being able to help the kids whose lives depend on us. I hope I am able to continue doing what I love for a very long time."
To donate time or needed supplies to the Sunnybrook campus in Ridgeland, please use this link.