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Tackling homelessness: how love can change lives

Posted at 11:45 PM, Feb 03, 2019

DUNDALK, Md (WMAR) — Volunteers Colleen Rippey and Jill Franquelli helped Ronnie Johnson when he needed it most, and now he wants to give back the love that changed his life.

"We need more people like them to come along and help those that need the help," Johnson said.

Franquelli and Rippey met Johnson while he was blind and living on the streets. With their nonprofit 'Simple Sacrifice', they deliver lunches every Sunday and Johnson would always come meet them, often breaking out in song and stealing their hearts. Then, when Johnson's wife died, they took to Facebook to raise money to help him out. They put him up in a hotel and took him to get a suit from Sharp Dressed Man. His story resonated with people and they raised over $10,000.

"For the first time, we were like, 'Okay, this is way beyond lunches. What's the next step?'," Rippey said.

The mission turned into finding him a permanent place to live and luckily, his family, who he lost touch with, saw the story and stepped in. Now he's living as his cousin's house in Dundalk, recovering from a stroke that took what little vision he had left. But he doesn't let any of that bring him down. Instead, he wants to use his experience to help others in need.

"Everybody needs someone to encourage them to go in the right direction and if they really want to, they can," Johnson said. "All things are possible and just because you may have taken a wrong turn or stepped in the wrong direction, that can easily be changed if you want to."

Rippey and Franquelli say it's not just a happy ending but the beginning of a new goal to help many more people like Johnson.

"We know that a community can come together to make something happen for an individual and if we can do it just one person at a time, that's how you change the world," Franquelli said.

And when Johnson is well enough, he will join them; giving back the love that changed his life.

"I'm so happy they have come into my life," Johnson said.

The money Rippey and Franquelli have left will go towards getting him a wheelchair, making his cousin's house wheelchair accessible and buying him other needs, like clothes to wear for physical therapy.