Giving Back

Westfield Mom Rallies Community to Turn Homeless Man’s Life Around in a Month

056a18891c207ce5f944_cc0d2ad405630f414e40_before_and_after.jpg
(left) Clinton Kelley on the day that April Stec and Brian Gorczyca took him off of the street to a hospital and (right) on Tuesday night, celebrating his new life. Credits: April Stec
a11847fe75425fdeca9f_f9ab90124e37d088824f_Clinton_Kelley_Rescue_story_Volunteers_with_Kelley_and_Sean_Landeta.JPG
Sean Landeta, April Stec, Brian Gorczyca, Clinton Kelley Sr., Kristina Martinez and June Lazaro at Rio Rodizio Tuesday night. Credits: Thomas W. Sulcer
fd11d50e4d781b1ce4df_ef60f3e9dbf7534b6b0e_Clinton_Kelley_Rescue_story_April_Stec.JPG
Westfield mom April Stec organized a Facebook-based campaign to help Clinton Kelley . Credits: Thomas W. Sulcer
7c845b8b4b90472ed5d9_5305a87ebe3b9f2585f7_Clinton_Kelley_Rescue_story_Kelley__right__posing_for_photos_with_NY_Giants_Football_star_Sean_Landeta.JPG
Retired NY Giants punter of Super Bowl fame poses with Clinton Kelley at Rio Rodizio. Credits: Thomas W. Sulcer
806dabbd00e746d162a7_98ecb9552bbb8a50caf4_Clinton_Kelley_Rescue_story_Kelley_with_volunteer_Kristina_Martinez__right_.JPG
Kelley  with H.O.P.E. admin Kristina Martinez. Earlier that day gave Kelley a new haircut. Credits: Thomas W. Sulcer
bcd6f429cb2d6a9afce0_cd2a466afd9f41313c59_Clinton_Kelley_Rescue_story_Volunteer_June_Lazaro__left__with_Kelley.JPG
June Lazaro with Kelley. Credits: Thomas W. Sulcer
056a18891c207ce5f944_cc0d2ad405630f414e40_before_and_after.jpg

UNION, NJ  — 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 know 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.

Sign Up for E-News

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.

“How could I tell my husband I was going to a hotel to bathe a homeless man I had never met before?” she recalled, smiling, but later said that her husband supported her choice. She gave Kelley a waist-up bathing.

Lazaro arranged for her son and granddaughter to send get-well cards to Kelley. Martinez gave Kelley a haircut. He asked for a Mohawk, his “trade signature.”

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”

Kelley spoke candidly about life as a homeless man. Up until four years ago, he was a productive member of society, holding jobs, supporting himself and a family, but a slew of unfortunate events around 2011 left him destitute, he said.

Kelley said he was born in 1956 in Salisbury, MD. From age 8 to 15, he lived in foster homes. His first marriage ended after three years. His second marriage to a school teacher lasted for 27 years.

He worked as a landscaper and tree trimmer doing arduous, dangerous work — climbing trees with ropes, pruning branches with chainsaws — for a tree company based in Kenilworth, Kelley said. Once, he had a finger sewed back on.

Kelley’s spiral into homelessness began in 2011 when he was hit by a car and dragged a short distance, he explained. He lost his job. His wife divorced him. He lived with one of his daughters for a while but there was no work, so he returned to New Jersey where he found some landscaping work, but the pay was not enough for him to afford a place to live.

In less than a year, he was homeless.

Without shelter, physical danger surrounded him, Kelley said. He described one night, while he camped out behind a CVS in Linden, when two thugs assaulted him. When they learned he had only two dollars in his pocket, they beat him severely, pummeling him against steel barriers that were placed to prevent cars from hitting the building. Two hips were broken and a knee, as well. Kelley said that he spent 27 days in the hospital that time. He has a titanium plate and two steel rods in his body.

He recalled one mugging when he was thrown over an eight-foot railing near an overpass, and then dropped   15 feet. He was trapped in cold water up to his knees for several hours, calling for help. Linden police and fire officials extricated him, he said.

During one attack, all of his contact information was taken from him. He lost the phone number and address of his daughter in North Carolina, as well as important identifying documents.

He remembers cold winters when he thought he would freeze to death. He said he was taken by ambulance to an emergency room and put under warming blankets. He remembers being told that his heart had stopped and that emergency doctors revived him.

Kelley said he never gave up.

“You can’t give up. You can’t stop believing in God,” he said.

He tried to form friendships with other homeless people. He recalled a woman named Barbara who he would sit with sometimes. When Kelley was given a sandwich, he would split it with her; later, he said, when Barbara got a tiny subsidized one-room rooming house apartment, she stopped talking to him. Still, Kelley said that there is an ethic among the homeless to help each other out.

“You share when you’re homeless,” he explained.

He depended on kind people to offer food, and there were long stretches when he had little or nothing to eat. Some organizations will only give you free food if you have an address, he said.

“I got used to not eating all the time,” he said.

Sometimes passersby would offer alcohol instead of food. He said he has had his difficulties with alcoholism.

When food was being given out, Kelley often had trouble getting to it. With no money for a bus ticket, in the cold, hungry, beset with injuries, it was hard for him walk to soup kitchens.

He found a safer location, finally, at a bench in front of the Linden City Hall near the police station. That is where he met Stec, who brought him a hot homemade meal.

“How can I repay you?” he asked her.

He told her a joke and she laughed. Over time, she came to see him as a good person who had fallen on tough times.

Going Home

Stec’s friendship and support was vital in his transition from homelessness, Kelley said.

At the celebration at Rio Rodizio Wedesday, he was groomed, outfitted in nice clothes with a cane and glasses. Kelley could walk, with a cane. The Social Services worker had helped him get new identification documents, with an all-important copy of his social security card.

Stec was hopeful.

"I would be surprised if he returned to being homeless, and would be disappointed,” she said. “But I think he's going to make it this time."

Through her contacts via Sports Fan Promotions, Stec got retired Giants footballer Sean Landeta to attend the sendoff dinner for Kelley. The brawny footballer sat behind a trophy studded table, cranking out signatures on 40-dollar footballs and shiny helmets. Kelley posed for pictures with the Super Bowl star. Landeta had two Super Bowl rings, and they both wore a ring for a photo.

That night, supporter Martinez said that she finally met Lazaro for the first time, though they had been messaging back and forth for weeks. They recognized each other from their Facebook photos.

It was Martinez who was first contacted by Kelley’s daughter Karen after she saw her father on Facebook. Martinez put father and daughter on the phone and they spoke for the first time in years.

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.

TAP Into Another Town's News:

You May Also Be Interested In

Sign Up for E-News

East Brunswick

East Brunswick: The History of... The East Brunswick Grange

April 18, 2018

EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ - During East Brunswick’s agricultural years, one of the most active organizations in town was the East Brunswick Grange. Granges were fraternities for farmers that helped promote the well-being of farming in the community. There were many granges across the country during the late 19th and early 20th Century, and East Brunswick was certainly no exception. In the period ...

Highland Park: Teen Mom Charged in Death of Newborn

HIGHLAND PARK, NJ - In a tragic turn of events, a teenager from Highland Park was charged in a juvenile complaint with murder in the first degree in the death of her newborn son.

Middlesex County Prosecutor Andrew C. Carey announced today that a 14-year-old teenage girl from Highland Park has been charged with an act of juvenile delinquency for an offense which if committed by an ...

Veinott’s Vietnam – Time Flies When You Fly Away

SOUTH PLAINFIELD, NJ – It’s been nearly a decade since South Plainfield native Philip Veinott packed his bags and moved over 8,500 miles away to start the next chapter of his life. And, a lot has changed – both personally and professionally – for Veinott in that time. 

In August 2016, Veinott married the love of his life, Helen Nguyen, and the couple is expecting ...

South Brunswick: Mayor Killmurray’s Funeral Plans Announced, Township Prepares For Administration Change

SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ – Township officials announced funeral plans for Mayor Christopher Killmurray and plans to deal with filling his position and a second one on the Council.

Killmurray, 55, died at home Sunday morning after battling brain cancer for several years.

According to the township, a viewing is scheduled for 3-7 p.m. Wednesday at St. Cecilia’s Roman Catholic Church at ...

South Brunswick: Mayor Christopher Killmurray, 55, Dies

SOUTH BRUNSWICK, NJ – Township Mayor Christopher Killmurray died at home Sunday morning, officials announced.

In an alert to residents, Township Manager Bernard Hvozdovic said that Killmurray, 55, passed away at home surrounded by his family after battling brain cancer for several years.

A Democrat, Killmurray was first elected to the Township Council in 2003 and served as deputy ...

Mayor Cohen Celebrates Chelsea's 20th Anniversary

April 18, 2018

EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ -- Mayor Brad Cohen, an enthusiastic supporter of the Chelsea at East Brunswick, was on hand to help mark the Chelsea's 20th anniversary on Tuesday, April 17, 2018.

Mayor Cohen read a proclamation honoring the Chelsea and recalled the experience of his late mother who, at age 102, had hip replacement surgery and lived to be 106. Mayor Cohen is a great friend of the ...

Upcoming Events

Fri, April 20, 6:30 PM

State Theatre New Jersey, New Brunswick

Wild Kratts

Arts & Entertainment

Sat, April 21, 8:00 AM

White house at Aldersgate UM Church, East Brunswick

RUMMAGE SALE to benefit the Food Bank

Other

Mon, April 30, 7:00 PM

Somerset Valley Playhouse, Hillsborough

Auditions for Smokey Joe's Cafe: The Songs of ...

Arts & Entertainment

Reading Like Cats and Dogs: EBPL Launches Second “Reading To Action” Program Series

EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ—East Brunswick Public Library (2 Jean Walling Civic Center) begins its second Reading to Action project, which includes a series of events and volunteer projects this April.

The Reading To Action program encourages library customers to be more active in their community. This year's theme is "animals." The library is presenting a variety of programs for ...

East Brunswick Public Library Screens “Swim Team” Documentary about Autistic Athletes

EAST BRUNSWICK, NJ—The East Brunswick Public Library (2 Jean Walling Civic Center) hosts a screening of the PBS documentary, Swim Team, on Wednesday, April 18 at 6:30 PM. The screening will be followed by a question-and-answer session with director Lara Stolman.

Stolman’s inspiring debut documentary, Swim Team, follows three diverse young men—Michael McQuay ...

Retro Review: Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo

Retro Review: Johnny Got His Gun by Dalton Trumbo (Citadel Press, 1970)

 

How does a reviewer do justice to a book called “the great American novel”? I first read Johnny Got His Gun during the Viet Nam war, when young people, nationwide, were protesting fighting in a war that was a senseless waste of life; a war in which the United States had no business participating.

The Truth About My Reading

The Truth About My Reading

I didn't get my Composition and Literature teacher at Montclair State College at all. A crusty old man with a dour disposition, Mr. Smith always seemed angry and rude. He appropriately intimidated freshmen, even me, an English major, who found this common core course beneath my dignity. Frankly, as a graduate of Highland Park High School, and a survivor of Mrs.

'The Sting' shimmers and shakes at Paper Mill

‘The Sting ‘slithers and shakes at Paper Mill Playhouse

By LIZ KEILL

MILLBURN, NJ – In a premiere production of “The Sting,” Harry Connick Jr. commands the Paper Mill Playhouse stage in Millburn.

Based on the sensational Paul Newman/Robert Redford film in 1973, the 1930s plot centers on a con game and gambling, sometimes on a train between New York and ...