Last month, Clinton Kelley was homeless. On Tuesday night, supporters were throwing him a dinner at Rio Rodizio on Route 22 to celebrate getting him back on his feet and into a permanent home. Last month, they were strangers.
April Stec, a single mom in Westfield, met the man she now calls “Uncle Clinton” sitting on a bench in front of the city hall of Linden — her home town. Over time, she got to know him and learn his story. In early August, she and her boyfriend, Brian Gorczyca saw that he had been beaten, again, and was in severe distress.
“I asked how he is and if he needed anything and he said, ‘I’m hungry. I’m very, very hungry,’” Stec recalled. She and Gorczyca brought him to a hospital, Stec said. Since that day, they and others from the community have rallied to help Kelley get back on his feet.
Stec posted a photo of Kelley on a Linden Facebook group asking for help and soon they had their own page, Help Clinton Kelley of Linden.
Others soon got her in touch with Helping Other People Everyday (H.O.P.E), an 800-member volunteer aid organization whose members communicate via Facebook. The group is led by Henry Giarnieri of Linden with volunteer leaders including Kristina Martinez and June Lazaro. In addition, they got help from Linden PBA President Joseph Birch, as well as a Social Services worker.
Together they formed an inner circle to coordinate a relief effort.
Donors saw the Facebook posting and provided clothes, food, money and services. Sometimes he stayed with Stec. They got him a room at a hotel for a week. When Kelley could not get his foot over the tub wall to bathe himself Lazaro, a former nurse, offered assistance.
Their Facebook page was seen by Kelley’s daughter, who he had lost touch with during his four years of living on the streets. Kelley now has a train ticket to North Carolina, where he plans to live with her, paid for by the Police Benevolent Association of Linden.
“You can’t give up. You can’t stop believing in God,” he said.
Kelley was pleased and grateful that so many people worked together to make his escape from misery possible. Back in July, he never would have dreamed it was possible.
“I did not believe that anybody would help me,” Kelley said.