Tom Poulin of Poland goes by many names and titles: Officer Friendly, school resource officer for the Auburn Police Department, chef extraordinaire, advocate for children, the Peace Guy, that guy who likes pink, and councilor at Camp Post Card.
The names hint at Poulin's depth.
It is hard to separate his love for cooking and his love for his 23-year job as a police officer.
He and his wife, Sue, started Bagels & Things, a popular Center Street, breakfast-and-lunch restaurant.
Before Poulin sold the restaurant, he and his wife were putting in about 110 hours and cracking more than 1,500 dozen eggs a week. During these long hours, some of the local police officers used to visit him in the wee hours of the morning as he was preparing to open. They’d chat and over the course of time they became friends.
One day officer Norm Guay, former mayor of Auburn, invited Poulin to ride along in his cruiser. Poulin agreed and this ride became a seminal moment in Poulin’s life.
One call was to an apartment in downtown Auburn where a 7-year-old girl had been making repeated 911 calls.
“We went to the door at 1:30 a.m. and heard this little voice say, 'Oh, good evening . . . won’t you come in?' The apartment was disheveled. The little girl stopped and picked up a few Cheerios that were on the floor and popped them in her mouth and said, ‘Won’t you sit down and talk with me?’” Poulin said.
Guay and Poulin engaged the little girl in a conversation and eventually found out that her mom was working and then went to a party. After the mother was contacted and arrived home, Poulin continued talking with the child while Guay spoke with the mother. When they left, Guay said to Poulin, “You’d make a good Officer Friendly.”
Poulin said, “All she wanted was someone to talk to. I’ve worked in schools for 14 years, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything.”
His passion for cooking started when he was growing up. Eventually, he graduated from the Culinary Institute of America.
Poulin teaches an after-school sous chef class to Auburn Middle School students, showing them how to “feel” the food, learning to measure spices in the palm of their hands, and find a love for cooking despite stereotypes.
One student recently called him to say that he was making dinner for his family. Poulin recalls the time that student almost quit, and then decided he was having too much fun to let what others thought dictate what he would do.
That call meant a lot to Poulin. "That’s what it’s about,” he said.
Wearing his pink chef’s jacket is one way Poulin asserts his pride in what he does and in his independence.
“I can do what I want, wearing pink causes some to wonder what I’m about.” It goes along with breaking out of mindsets of limits and barriers to roles in life. “I do this and it breaks barriers. I love it. Sometimes I will wear (one of his collection of 30) crazy chef pants and people smile and raise their eyebrows. I am proud of what I do,” he said.
It is clear that Poulin enjoys his work and connecting with kids. His work at Camp Post Card (Police Officers Striving To Create And Reinforce Dreams) in the summer is one of the highlights of the year. At the end of camp, the police officers who have been in civilian clothes all week come out clad in their dress uniforms to serve dinner. Poulin usually wears something on his uniform to reinforce a principle he has taught all week, and he usually gathers knowing glances from his young students.
For Tom Poulin, being Officer Friendly, or an officer doing his job to help abused and neglected children, or chef among his treasured pots and pans, life is good and his memories of lives he has touched are gravy.