It only takes one person to make a difference. For some this is just an overused cliché, for others it’s an inspiring phrase that keeps them pushing forward, but looking at one individual, it is nothing but fact.
It’s hard to believe that less than two years have passed and although she is no longer sleeping on park benches and scrounging for change in the pockets of old jeans, she is still living in her truck, with a few new modifications.
This is a story about a woman and a challenge. This is the story about faith and love. This is the story about Project 50/50.
A little over one year ago, she was just like any other 20-something female: away from home and working her way up the corporate ladder in an attempt to get rich quick. A few months later, her world turned upside down as she found herself sleeping on park benches with nothing but a suitcase in hand, her dog at her side and a pride that refused to allow her to go back to her family.
Enraged at her predicament, stranded without a car, a house, a job or an income, she couldn’t hold in her anger anymore and screamed as loud as she could.
“I was furious. I was yelling at God. ‘Why did you do this to me!? Tell me what I’m suppose to do and I’ll do it,” said Kelley.
A few weeks later, an idea instantaneously developed in her mind and from that moment she knew what she was meant to do.
She would embark on a grassroots journey, traveling the country and go door to door collecting nonperishable food for the homeless. She called this escapade Project 50/50, 50 states in 50 weeks with one sole purpose: reach out to as many people as she could who were in her same situation and distribute gathered donations to anyone in need.
“I’m not a religious person, but I am very spiritual,” said Kelley. “This was a divinely inspired idea. I had challenged God and he gave me this idea so I had to keep up my end of the bargain.”
Throughout 2010 Kelley traveled from state to state doing only one thing: giving.
“I want to die empty because I gave it all away,” a quote posted and repeatedly emphasized by Kelley on Twitter and Facebook, along with her selfless actions, inspired a following of people all wanting to pitch in to help.
She began her journey with an empty truck named Bubba and a willing passenger – her dog, Zuzu. By the end of 2010, her initial yearlong goal was complete; she had managed to travel to all 50 states solely on donations from those who wanted to help and who believed in her cause. Throughout the course of the year she had managed to hand out more than 11,000 food items and over 4,000 pairs of socks to the homeless.
“I can estimate about $30,000 worth of stuff including the food and socks,” said Kelley. “Not only did we provide people and organizations with everything from cosmetics and hygiene supplies to camping gear, brand new clothes, week stays at hotel rooms, help with identification, job searches, meals and other things, but I also used my personal income, through tax returns and savings accounts, to make financial contributions to organizations as well. I donated to over 150 organizations, and as far as individual people... hundreds. I don't have numbers, I have stories.”
As great as the turnout was, thousands of donations were not the only outcome of her year of on-the-road volunteer work. During the second half of her journey Kelley’s project transformed into a full blown nonprofit organization and she ended her 50/50 trip in Hawaii where she shared a sunset for one special event: her wedding to college friend, Shane Patrick.
“Shane and I have known each other for six years. We worked together in college. We were always in love, we just didn't know it until we ran into each other in Oklahoma City,” said Kelley. “It was hard to have a long distance relationship, but it was worth the wait.”
“It was short-term planning, we were discussing getting married and about her going to Hawaii back in early November and the idea of getting married out there was presented, but we really didn't know what was going to happen until the day we got married,” said Patrick.
For some, a perfect honeymoon and first year of being married involves an apartment, maybe a house and boxes full of pots and pans, for Patrick, the first year of marriage is happily moving in to a Ford pick up truck with his new wife and dog and traveling the country on a second year long service project.
“I knew that I was going to do the Project again by the time I was in Nebraska, not even half way done. I wanted to do it again this year simply because I’m not done yet. There is more work to do,” said Kelley. “I was terrified that Shane wouldn't want to go, but thank God he was all in.”
Ending last year’s grassroots journey with a wedding in Hawaii, Kelley and Patrick headed back to where the project began and within a matter of days embarked on round two, this time, together.
“It was hard to have her home for such a short time period. We were just getting through the 'adjustment' period. It was very difficult for Shay, the 'abundance' of having a roof over your head, bed to call your own, family who loves you, refrigerator with food, etc. These simple things she no longer takes for granted and the high school/young adult attitude of 'entitlement' left Shay a very long time ago,” said Jennifer Murphy, Kelley’s mother. “It's a very odd sensation to be so consumed with worry that you have absolutely no choice but to completely give your child to God, to take care of because there is no way that you can. God has been working on me with this with both my children (my son is serving in Kuwait). But once you can let go of them, they can blossom in ways you may have never expected and you can fully rest in the assurance that no matter how much you love your children, God actually loves them more.”
Although Bubba retired after his long cross country trip in 2010 he gave over the position of truck, donation box and home to his replacement: a Ford Jethro, who, after a few hiccups and adjustments is turning out to be a fine addition to the project.
“I want to leave lasting impressions on people's hearts,” said Patrick. “This is one of the most involved ways of helping others. Every part of our lives networks us with someone or something that can help someone else or we are directly helping someone. It redefines several common words for me, such as Love, Compassion, and Grace.”
Taking the same route as she took in 2010, Kelley and Patrick have round two well underway with 11 states marked off the map and Nevada coming up as the 12th state to visit.
“We'll be visiting some of the same places, like Vegas, and even some of the same organizations. We're taking the same route from one state to the next, but other than that, we're winging it as usual,” said Kelley. “As far as Nevada goes, there is a family outside of Reno that recently got housing. Hands of Hope Food Bank in Reno worked with me to get food sent to their trailer every week that they were homeless. The entire thing was organized through Twitter. I'd like to meet them, see their new home, and put a real live face to their twitter handle after six long months of communication. I'd also like to visit Hands of Hope to thank them in person. The owners of that nonprofit, Elaine and Paul, are awesome people with huge hearts.”
Last summer, as Kelley drove the freeway into the city of Las Vegas, she saw a road sign that caught her attention: Rainbow Blvd.
After taking the exit she found a nice looking neighborhood near North Rainbow Blvd., parked Bubba on the street and began her routine, walking door-to-door and collecting donations.
During her traveling in 2010, her last donation delivery made in Las Vegas was to the International Church in Summerlin, where she was told the donations would be distributed to the homeless.
Now during her second trip to the city she and Patrick have a few things they would like to achieve.
“I'd like to find a way to get under Vegas, because I know that the people living in the tunnels could use some help,” said Kelley.
Patrick says he’d like to meet all the goals they set for the project and “to grow the project on a national level, getting more people involved in every state that we visit.”
Working solely to help others, Kelley and Patrick find pleasure in the simple luxuries in each city they visit, and Vegas is no different.
“I've never been to Vegas, so I would definitely like to see the strip, and I wouldn't mind meeting at least one Elvis impersonator,” said Patrick.
Preparing for their arrival, locals are starting to gather donations and make plans to meet the couple of Project 50/50 when they get into town, and imagine the excitement for Patrick if an Elvis impersonator showed up with donations.
Among the many enthusiastic individuals and organizations are the folks from a private husband and wife team called ‘This Way Up’.
“Seeing a 24-year-old woman out there doing what she does was very inspiring and one of the reasons we always carry socks and whatever we can think of and afford in our cars,” said This Way Up founder, John Landry.
“We've gotten enough to fill Jethro about half way! All of the donations (food, clothing and personal hygiene kits) we have for them are from my wife and I. Unfortunately we're in the same position as many people throughout the valley: under-employed and doing the best that we can, but we all have something to give even if it's just a few minutes of our time. Socks are 10 for $6 at Wal-Mart and soups are 6 for $2. Most of us can afford that.”
When embarking on this project the first time around, Kelley knew that she would document everything she saw and the experiences she had and eventually incorporate them into a book.
Now during round two, both Kelley and Patrick are documenting the entire year in photos, blog posts and live feed on social networking sites, and as soon as a publisher is interested, the book will be underway.
“The book, and its proceeds, will be used as a fundraiser for Project 50/50 to continue providing food, clothing and hygiene products to people in need around the country. I didn't do this to get rich, and when this project became a nonprofit, I took a step to prove that. I also ensured that this project wasn't going to end after 2010. There is much more work to do,” said Kelley. “The project is dynamic. It changes almost daily, definitely weekly, and it grows exponentially each month. In one year's time, this project out grew my imagination. So I'm excited to see what it will look like at the end of 2011.”
Now continuing full force as they make their way from one state to the next they continue to inspire others and evoke action from those who want to get involved. What lies in store for the project at the end of year two is yet to be determined.
“Who knows, overseas? Fleets of Bubba's and Jethro's? Round 3?” guesses Patrick.
With constant uncertainty about the future, Kelley and Patrick live day-by-day, continuing the Project on faith and look forward to what the future holds.
“I think that God is more creative than complete repetition, so even if He says to do it again, it will be different. This year, I have my husband, totally different than the first time around: unique and awesome,” said Kelley. “I can't imagine how round 3 would be different, if there was a round 3 in the US. I could see us going international. Why not? 12 countries in 12 months?”
For more information on Shay Kelley, Shane Patrick and Project 50/50, stories of their travels or to find out how you can help visit www.project-5050.com or follow their journey on Twitter @Project5050
To find out more about This Way Up follow John and Lynn Landry on Twitter at: @thiswayuplv