Someone calls him “Forrest Gump” every day. It may be because he sports a long hair and a full long beard, but it’s more likely because he’s been running for 40 days
“When I got started, I thought if I can just help one person, that would mean this was worth it,” Jordan Connell said.
He set out from New York City on Sept. 15. He passed through Gardner and Edgerton on Nov. 5 and hopes to reach his destination at Santa Monica Pier in California on New Year’s Eve.
The goal of his journey is to raise awareness of homeless youth through his charity, Team 314.
Though he had a home and a place to sleep, Connell remembers a time when he felt lost.
After he graduated from high school, Connell attended William Jewell College intending to play basketball.
He admits he didn’t have a lot of direction.
“After (basketball) fell through my sophomore year, my parents divorced,” the 24-year-old said. “That kind of sent me on a quest for trying to understand about my life.”
He found a gig in Chicago living and working in a homeless mission.
“That really helped point me in this direction. There was so much greater need out there than I had really known,” Connell said.
He came back to the Kansas City area looking for ways getting to know homeless youth in the area.
“I started living underneath a bridge in Kansas City to get really firsthand experience of what life was like for many of the people there,” Connell said. “That opened a door to meet a lot of young people.”
He realized youth homelessness was something that could be addressed and fixed very simply if people would just get involved, Connell said.
“I felt like God was leading me to do this run,” he said. “So I began to train and prepare to start a run across the U.S.”
He was inspired by Titus 3:14, a Bible verse.
“Our people must learn to devote themselves to doing what is good, in order that they may provide for daily necessities and not live unproductive lives,” the verse reads.
“I had read that verse early in my training, and I went out the next day and ran my first marathon,” Connell said. “They handed me my race number, and it was 314. That just confirmed that this was what this was going to be.”
He runs 40 hours a week for five days a week stopping at shelters and other missions along the way. Connell believes the journey is making a difference.
“At each place we’ve been able to meet some amazing young people,” Connell explained. “Their stories are just heart-wrenching, and they’re so withdrawn. They don’t want to look at you or talk to you. By the time we leave, they’re giving hugs and sharing their lives with us. It’s helped them see that there are people out there who love them.”
At one stop, Connell recalls a 13-year-old girl wrote a song for Connell and Team 314.
“And she sang it for us,” he said. “It was really cool to see how happy she was and that talent that she had.”
After he crosses the finish line on New Year’s Eve, Connell hopes to have acquired information about dozens of different outreach and mission programs. He’ll take what he’s learned and open a program in Union, Mo.
“I want to be able to take what I’ve learned and help educate communities. And then in Union mplement a program to create safe places for kids to turn to, to help them move into successful adulthoods,” Connell said. “Already I’ve made some great connections with people who are willing to help us take the next step.”