As the sixth of 10 kids raised by a single mother in a Detroit suburb, Matthew Judon of the Baltimore Ravens knows what that situation can mean for a family.
After deciding to donate to a nonprofit tackling poverty and homelessness, the Pro Bowl outside linebacker reached out to Bridge of Hope, a national organization based in Pennsylvania, to offer $13,000 to start a site in the Baltimore area.
Thanks to Judon’s generosity, Greater Baltimore Region Bridge of Hope is well on its way to becoming a reality with the assistance of Christ Memorial Presbyterian Church in Columbia.
The seed money — which the local board of directors is racing to match by Dec. 31 — will go toward hiring a caseworker and setting up office space somewhere in the region, said Sue Ashman, a member of Christ Memorial, who will chair the newly formed board of directors.
Organizers are aiming to make the new affiliate official in the first quarter of 2020. They expect to begin accepting referrals of homeless families in Howard and Baltimore counties and the city of Baltimore in the second or third quarter of the new year, Ashman said.
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This mission is personal for Judon, 27, who joined the Ravens in 2016.
While he never experienced homelessness as a child, he knows firsthand that one-parent households often face a common set of seemingly insurmountable obstacles.
“Single parents and their kids can feel like they are alone and that others don’t understand what they’re going through. Bridge of Hope gets the community involved and gives the families a shoulder to lean on,” he said.
“It’s almost like I’m taking care of little me back in West Bloomfield,” Judon said, recalling his childhood in Michigan. “It makes you feel good to make other people happy, and I am blessed to be in a situation where I can do that.”
The Rev. Scott Hoffman applauded Judon, who has attended organizational meetings at the church on Shaker Drive, for his efforts and concern.
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“Matt could’ve chosen to help any number of nonprofits, but he chose this one and that’s very exciting,” said Hoffman, who has served as Christ Memorial’s pastor for eight years. “The focus of Bridge of Hope is not a handout or even a hand up; it’s working hand-in-hand.”
Bridge of Hope’s formula for combating homelessness combines professional case management services with the encouragement and support of members of local Christian faith communities, whom they call neighboring volunteers.
The organization, with its national office based about an hour northwest of Philadelphia in Malvern, Pennsylvania, has opened 19 affiliates in 12 states since 1989.
The nonprofit’s model is centered on helping housing-insecure families improve their financial position and develop supportive relationships, said Anne Dunnenberger, the national outreach director.
“This can include families who are couch-surfing at a friend’s home, living illegally with another family in a small apartment or staying in grandma’s basement,” she said. “None of these situations is sustainable.”
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Bridge of Hope’s goal is to get a family into housing within 60 days of contact, giving the head of household breathing room to focus on goal planning, finding a better job and making other changes, Dunnenberger said.
“Sue’s long-term vision is to give Greater Baltimore Region Bridge of Hope a bigger footprint,” she said. “But never in her wildest dreams did she think she’d get the seed money to hire staff and begin serving families so quickly.”
The Judons plan to continue to support the new affiliate, Dunnenberger said.
“Matt and his wife, BreighAnn, want to do more than just give money,” she said. “They’re considering holding a day of catch for kids, which would help us nationally since Matt and the Ravens are such a hot commodity right now.”
BreighAnn Judon — who is expecting a boy the couple will name Leonides Joshua Judon — said she will attend as many organizational meetings at the church as she can until her due date in six weeks. The new baby will join his 4-year-old sister Aniyah at the family’s home in Owings Mills.
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Two years before becoming an affiliate — in one of a chain of events that Dunnenberger calls “God moments” — Christ Memorial Presbyterian Church’s Women for Women group was discussing how members might help a local family in need.
At Ashman’s suggestion, the church group connected with Bridge of Hope, where she’d previously volunteered when she lived in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania.
Later in the same week, the plight of a single-parent family that could only afford to live in a cramped motel room with a dorm-sized refrigerator came to the church’s attention. The family’s identity is being withheld due to personal safety concerns.
After a social media campaign by one of the volunteers raised more than $18,000 to cover temporary housing and pay down debt, the church became a Bridge of Hope “one-church site,” working on its own to support one family. Ashman was accepted by the national office for training to equip her to volunteer as that family’s caseworker.
That’s when the church learned that Help End Homelessness Howard County was ready to rent a three-bedroom condo they’d purchased and renovated for a homeless family, with rent determined by ability to pay. The unit just happened to be the minimum size the large family was legally allowed to occupy.
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A close relationship between the family and the church blossomed from the start.
“This effort has made my life so full,” said Ashman, who, along with her husband, Bob, has been a member of Christ Memorial Presbyterian Church for 12 years. “All of our volunteers are this woman’s friends, and her kids are like our adopted grandchildren.”
But not everything about the process has been rosy.
“I’ve learned a tremendous amount, both good and bad,” Ashman said. “By walking beside someone in this situation, I now see the dysfunction and discrimination that families in the system can face.”
Pastor Hoffman said the group is undaunted.
“Sue is very passionate about this, and the hope is that it will become a transformative ministry for a larger area,” he said.
“It’s not going to solve the issue of homelessness with a broad stroke, but we’ve already seen the difference this program can make,” Hoffman said. “It’s not ‘Here’s a house, good luck.’ A family in crisis is surrounded with the services they need.”
As preparations for the official launch continue, Christ Memorial is planning a graduation party for the single mom and kids they’ve been assisting “since they have reached stability,” Ashman said.
The church’s volunteers, who will also attend the celebration, will continue to support the family in any way they can.
But it was Judon’s seed money that “made all the difference,” Ashman said.
“When we were a one-church site, planning to work with one family at a time, we were hoping to expand to other churches and assist multiple families in five to 10 years,” she said. “Matt’s donation really sped up that timetable.”