Brandon’s Smile

In every city in America, you can find the homeless on any given corner; young and old, well-dressed and filthy, black and white. They approach, hand outstretched, but we stare intently away at anything or anyone to avoid eye contact. Maybe occasionally we crack the car window to extend a handful of coins or a crumpled bill, mutter the obligatory “God bless you,” and then drive away having appeased our conscience with the good deed of the day. But we conveniently ignore the fact that behind each one of these dejected faces is a soul and a story. And perhaps the reason we don’t dare to venture beyond the safety of our air-conditioned, leather-trimmed bubbles is that we know engaging those souls and inserting ourselves into their stories will be messy. It will be inconvenient and take time and money. It will cost us something.

It started with a ride
Thankfully, for a Brandon, a 30-year old formerly-homeless Californian, one man named Rob Jewel was willing to bear that cost. Having grown up in Alabama as the son of a prostitute mother and an alcoholic father, Brandon’s life was set on a rough course from the start. A series of unfortunate events left Brandon homeless and destitute at 22 years old. After attempting to start over in California in the late 2000s, things fell apart and Brandon again found himself living on the street. At the time, Rob was working with Moment Church, and the call was put out at a staff meeting one morning for anyone willing to give the homeless rides to church. Rob shares, “At the time, my life was busy and I didn’t really think I had the time to help, but I reluctantly volunteered for the job.”

As a part of this responsibility, Rob was introduced to Brandon, and every week Rob would pick him up and give him a ride to church. “I would pick him up and he would smell so bad,” Rob recalls. “I lived out of the way, but I arranged for Brandon to take a shower at a friend’s house every week. That was, until that friend called me after a few visits and said ‘Sorry, Rob, but Brandon can’t come anymore. We don’t want that kind of influence around us.’ It tore me up. Brandon was the sweetest guy I had ever met, and it killed me that they were treating him like that. They had the means to help him, but they turned their back on him. What’s funny, though, is that I was mad at them for just doing what I had done for my entire life.”

A leap of faith
One night, Rob and his brother Steve dropped Brandon off to go sleep in his usual spot on a set of concrete steps. As they were driving away Steve said, “This is the worst feeling I’ve ever had in my life … that we just dropped a guy off to go sleep on the street.” The brothers decided that they couldn’t let this go on any longer. Shortly after, in October 2011, Rob and Steve invited Brandon to come and live with them. Rob shares, “Brandon was a huge leap of faith for me. If we had never invited Brandon in, I would still be the same guy who passed by people in need and didn’t care. But now I can’t imagine life without him.” Brandon was thrilled but, as Rob continues, “For a long time Brandon was afraid that we were going to kick him out. He thought it was too good to be true. I kept on assuring him, ‘Brandon, you can’t do anything that’s going to make me kick you out!’ I’ve told him, ‘I want you to be a part of my life for the rest of my life. You’re a brother to me now.’”

Rob immediately helped Brandon look for a job. Brandon filled out five job applications every day for three weeks until he finally got an offer to work at the 99-cent store. But, after a drug-addicted co-worker got caught stealing money and put the blame on Brandon, he was let go after five months.

Brandon’s smile
Rob recounts, “When Brandon lost his job I saw him lose hope. He started applying to jobs again but couldn’t get hired. We realized that a major obstacle for Brandon is his teeth. Not only do they cause him excruciating pain, but his appearance makes it difficult for him to get hired anywhere.” And so the idea for brandonssmile.com was born. Rob and his friends decided to launch an Indiegogo campaign to help raise money to get Brandon a new smile. A friend named Jason Shelley pitched in and recorded a professional-quality video of Brandon’s story. Steve wrote and recorded the background music. The campaign made the rounds on social media, ending on Christmas day 2012, and raised $3,000 towards Brandon’s smile makeover. Brandon says, “I can’t wait until January when I don’t have to feel this pain anymore.” Rob explains, “His teeth make him look homeless still. He has dreams and goals that he wants to accomplish – he actually wants to be an extra in movies!”

Two lives changed
What started as Rob trying to help change Brandon’s life has ended with a huge change in Rob’s own. He shares, “When I first took Brandon in, I felt like I didn’t have the time. I used to say that I could never do something like this, but it simply wasn’t true. When you look at it, we all have the resources to help people like Brandon, but we just don’t use them. People always talk about the government, but what about the church?” He continues, “I collect the G.I. bill and go to school. I make less than half of what most people my age make, and I’m living almost paycheck to paycheck until I get through school. If I can do something like this, then you can too. Don’t make excuses, make a difference!” Rob concludes, “The joy that Brandon has brought into my life…I praise God for it, because this isn’t something that I would have done on my own. It’s been one of the most difficult years for me financially, but it’s probably been the best year of my life. I wouldn’t trade all the money in the world for how my life has changed taking Brandon in.”

Thousands of dollars are still needed to give Brandon a new smile. To make a donation, or to learn more about Brandon and his story, visit brandonssmile.com.

Justin is the Staff Writer for the Good News. Email him at [email protected] or follow him on Twitter at @thejustinyoung.

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