Lauren Bagnasco was walking home from work on a warm summer day when she saw a young man sitting on a milk crate on the side of the street.
Bagnasco told Dearly she first noticed his bright red hair; then her eyes traveled to the cardboard sign he had propped up against his face.
It read: “Please help. I’m 18 and have been on my own since 14.”Newton Grafitti/Flickr
The 27-year-old accountant was about to turn the street corner, but something he had written made her stop dead in her tracks.
Behind the sign, she could see the profile of his face. He looked very young.
She wrote on GoFundMe:
If you know me, you know how close this hits home.
Bagnasco called a friend, who convinced her to do what she thought was right. Then, she went into a store and bought two bottles of water and a Gatorade.Lauren Bagnasco
As she reached to hand him the drinks, he woke up and looked up at her in surprise.
“Are these for me?” he asked. She nodded. “All three?”
Bagnasco said “yes” and handed him the bottles. She introduced herself and asked the young man how he ended up on the streets.
His name was Matthew, and he was originally from Delaware. Matthew had been in foster care for most of his life. He said once he turned 18, he was told to try a homeless shelter in New York for more job opportunities.
After he reached New York, he realized he needed his birth certificate and social security card. As he didn’t have either, he contacted CPS to mail the documents to him. But without an address he couldn’t receive his documents. Without the documents, he couldn’t stay in housing or get a job.Derek Mindler/Flickr
She sat and talked to Matthew for 10 minutes before she asked for the CPS employee’s name and promised to help in any way she could. Then, she stood up from the sidewalk and headed toward the train station.
Bagnasco told Dearly she missed her train home that day. She admitted she wasn’t sure if the kid was being truthful, but she took it upon her own shoulders to follow up with the CPS worker.
When she called CPS, they told her he would need to visit the offices in Delaware or make a written request to headquarters:
“Both which I’m willing to help him with.”
Even if it was just a small step, she felt she had made progress.
That evening, she thought about Matthew and how their 10-minute conversation might help him get off the streets. She shared her story in a private Facebook page known as The Kindness Challenge.
At first, she hesitated to post to the group page. She told Dearly:
“I was hesitant to post the story at first because I didn’t want it to come across like I was a hero. I simply wanted to create awareness about teens on the street and help one-by-one to create a better future.”
But a few hours later, she started receiving direct messages from strangers asking how they could help Matthew. Bagnasco set up a GoFundMe to buy him water and food and to provide him with other help until he got home.The Matthew Dale Fundraiser/GoFundMe
In addition to the crowdfunding website, she started collecting food and clothing to bring to him. She also has a job lined up that will help him secure an education.
Bagnasco felt encouraged her story was helping to inspire others to reach out and help people, especially a young homeless man:
“Always be kind. Even if only for 10 minutes. Taking away someone’s loneliness for 10 minutes can mean the world to them.”
According to the Covenant House, an estimated 2 million young people are homeless in the U.S. every year. Almost 40 percent of the homeless population is under the age of 18. More than a quarter of foster children become homeless after leaving the system.
Many homeless young people have endured violence, abuse, or drug activities within their homes.
Bagnasco told Dearly the reason she turned around when she saw his sign was because it reminded her of her own tumultuous childhood.
When Bagnasco was 9-years-old, her father died. Her mother often struggled with drug addiction. For years, she bounced around from home to home before she disconnected with her mom at 13.
She worked hard to put herself through high school and six years of college. Now, finally on her own two feet, it felt right to help another young person: “I’ve only known struggle, so when I see someone else struggling, I automatically want to jump in and ensure they have a better future.”