Forty years ago, in 1981, then Georgia Tech football coach Bill Curry, who was in the process of rebuilding the Georgia Tech football program, gave a football scholarship to a very big (6 feet 5 inch) homeless eighteen-year-old boy from Las Vegas, Nevada. That boy’s name was Sam Bracken.

I met Sam shortly after his arrival in Atlanta and after learning that he was from Los Vegas where one of my granddaughters lived, I asked him if he knew my granddaughter. He didn’t but it was my means of opening a conversation with this young man new to Atlanta. Then, as our discussion continued, I learned that his mother had kicked him out of her house because, as Sam told it, she couldn’t afford feeding him and her daily drug habit, and she could live without him but not without her drugs, so Sam had to go.

After learning he was homeless, I invited him to have lunch with Joan and me. After lunch we sat down to visit and to see if we could help him in some way adjusting to Atlanta. As we visited Sam told us that he had been devastated when his mother told him he had to go and that he began running. After running for miles, he ended up on the doorsteps of his best friend in high school whose family then took him in for his last two years in school. But now, in Atlanta, Sam was again homeless.

Even though Sam was on a scholarship, he was still homeless, and Joan and I had a large home with only one of our eight children still at home, and she was attending college. After visiting with Sam for some time we invited Sam to become a member of our family. That afternoon we drove over to his dormitory where he picked up his Orange Duffel Bag, a bag that contained all his earthly clothing and moved into one of our several bedrooms. Sam stayed with us during his four years at Tech and then, instead of playing professional football as several of his teammates had, Sam chose to go to Ontario, Canada for two years. While in Ontario Sam not only met his future wife Kim but he also met his future boss as well, working side by side with him for nearly a year, and who today is the owner of one of the larger car dealerships in America and where Sam is now Vice President of dealer development.

Following their marriage Sam and Kim made their home here in the Atlanta where he found gainful employment. It was during their days here in Atlanta that Sam wrote what became a national bestselling book, a book titled My Orange Duffel Bag. His book was about his challenges he overcame as a teenager and how he was blessed by making the choices needed to overcome his teenage challenges. His book includes a chapter about his days living with us and how Joan was his alarm clock when he had to get up at five in the morning and run five miles to his job during the summer months.

Then, about ten years ago, several prominent Atlantans using Sam’s book, My Orange Duffel Bag, as their foundational book created a program they named, The Orange Duffel Bag Foundation, a program that helps children that are mostly homeless understand the value of an education in becoming productive members of society. Three weeks ago, the Foundation held a tenth-year anniversary celebration. During the banquet held at the Georgia Tech Hotel a review of their success showed the Foundation had served over fifteen hundred homeless young men and women during the past ten years. It also showed that more than eighty percent of the graduates of their fifteen-week course went on to complete high school and then on to receive a college education, with many of the graduates now seasoned professionals in their own fields of expertise.

This story reminds me about the parable of Jesus (John 4) with the woman at the well. Many had by-passed the woman, as many by-pass the homeless and less fortunate children of today and gave her what she needed. Today, blessed are those who see the potential of the homeless and take the time to help them lift themselves out of the loneliness of being homeless, with an education, thus provided them with the needed essentials to care for themselves and their future families. Joan and I have been greatly blessed for giving Sam a home forty years ago.

Donald Conkey is a retired agricultural economist who lives in Woodstock.


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