An SOS is hard to ignore—especially if it involves kids. Even more so if those kids are from your alma mater.
Bruce and Stephanie Sullivan couldn’t hit delete when the football coach at Louisville’s Iroquois High School posted a GoFundMe request for assistance with pregame meals and practice uniforms.
“I’ll help,” Bruce told him, “but I’ll bring Jesus with me.”
Several years ago, that wouldn’t have been Bruce’s response. However, because he has grown in his walk with Jesus, things in his life look different now.
“Come on in,” the coach responded.
At the first cookout, players were distant, even wary of the Sullivans.
Bruce and Stephanie understood that trust is an issue. No one wants to be a project or a one-time, do-good outreach to make givers feel better. The players are courageous kids facing difficult challenges—challenges the Sullivans, having grown up in the community and still living nearby, know.
However, it didn’t take long for trust to be built.
The Sullivans asked area restaurants to donate pregame meals. Since Iroquois High School is near Southeast’s South Louisville Campus, Bruce and Stephanie—who attend the church’s Southwest Campus—asked Campus Pastor Justin Weece and Student Pastor Cole Ragland to help provide drawstring backpacks with two shirts and two pairs of shorts for each player.
Bruce and Stephanie asked former University of Louisville Fellowship of Christian Athletes Campus Director Chris Morgan and Steve Wigginton, Greater Louisville FCA Area Director, as well as others, to speak to the players. The Sullivans’ adult son, Nason, also helped out as did another member of the Southwest Campus, Joe Hawks.
“We loved on them, prayed for them, and took some of the players to church with us,” Stephanie said.
When the Sullivans realized food is an ongoing challenge, they worked with Richie Malafronte to partner with his employer, Zeon Chemicals, to provide a stocked pantry at the school where students can get snacks and convenience foods.
Bruce and Joe showed up for practices and games.
“These kids are dealing with violence, threats, drugs, and failing grades. They’re working as well as going to school and often caring for siblings,” Bruce said. “Many live with an aunt or grandparent. They need steady encouragers in their lives.”
Soon, athletes were calling Bruce about big life questions as he became a constant in otherwise chaotic worlds. By the end of the football season, some students were attending church with the Sullivans.
Southwest Campus Community Pastor Aaron Troutman watched friendships unfold.
“It’s been incredible to see the Sullivans walk alongside the Iroquois football team,” he said. “From feeding them meals before games to sponsoring spirit packs and even starting a team food pantry, they have been the hands and feet of Jesus to this team.”
Last season, the Southwest and South Louisville Campuses teamed up to host the first team banquet in a long time.