South Carolina Teen Launches Non-Profit to Help the Homeless
Catholic school student aims to be a “Bright Light” in his community
Helping people has always been important to Connor Farrell. His parents set an example, taking into their home foster children who were facing a crisis situation. And as the Farrells drove to and from school, they often saw homeless individuals along their route; so the Farrell children — Mary Kate, Connor, Evan and Maggie — helped to distribute snacks and toiletries to those in need.
During the pandemic, the problem loomed even larger: With people isolated at home, there was an increase in demand; but at the same time, supply chain delays meant that common self-care products were often hard to obtain. Additionally, there was an increase in the homeless population in Greenville, South Carolina, where the Farrells made their home.
Connor and his family, members of St. Mary Magdalene parish in Simpsonville, sat down and discussed how they could better help those in need. Driving to and from school, they had passed the Triune Mercy Center, a non-denominational church that ministered to the homeless population, and had often seen people in need gathered there; so Connor and his siblings reached out to the pastor to ask how they might help. The four Farrell children began packaging hygiene kits which included basic necessities such as toothpaste and toothbrushes, lotion, shampoo, deodorant, razors and washcloths. In addition, they tucked into each hygiene kit an inspirational Bible quote. Each month, the family dropped off the hygiene kits at the Triune Mercy Center and at the Upstate Office of Catholic Charities.
Things have changed in the ensuing years. Mary Kate, the oldest of the Farrell children, has gone on to attend college at Villanova University, and the younger children have gone on to pursue other interests. Connor Farrell, now a junior at St. Joseph High School in Greenville, has continued the project and has taken it to a new level. With support from his father, an attorney, Connor founded a nonprofit organization, Bright Lights Greenville, to better meet the needs of the area’s homeless population. Connor applied for and received a 501(c)(3) status for his charitable organization, making it easier for people who sympathize with his cause to join in support. Earlier this year, Connor’s Bright Lights Greenville was awarded a $1,500 Global Youth Mobilization Grant sponsored by the World Health Organization. That grant enabled Connor to expand the outreach and to launch a new website (www.brightlightsgreenville.com).
The organizations which Connor’s ministry helps have been more than grateful for his generous contributions to the homeless in the local community. Jennifer Foust Sheorn, pastor and director of the Triune Mercy Center, had met Connor when she began her work at the Center in July 2020. She reported that she had enjoyed getting to know the young man through emails, which he had initiated, asking what he and his family could do to help those experiencing homelessness in the Greenville area. “I’ve been most impressed with this young man,” she said.
Connor is a self-starter. He’s kind, intelligent, considerate, friendly and hardworking, and he has such a tremendous passion for service to the least of these.
Connor learned about Triune through his church, and now once a month he leads the way by packing and delivering over 50 hygiene kits to bring along with over 100 meals to serve to our parishioners. I wish that every freshman in high school had Connor’s drive and dedication to the disadvantaged. One of the common things we hear from our parishioners is how many of them feel like others look right past them and don’t really see them nor take the time to show them respect or grant them dignity. Connor is an exception to the rule. Through the generosity of Connor, his family and church community, we’re able to feed people and offer them a bag of dignity and respect in a hygiene kit. More than that though, Connor is setting an example for his peers through his selfless acts of service and approach to caring for others.
Jessica Thrall, site administrator for the Upstate Regional Office of Catholic Charities of South Carolina, said:
Connor is a bright young man who exudes a passion for serving his community. It is a pleasure for Catholic Charities Upstate to partner with Bright Lights Greenville because through their partnership we are able to meet more of the community’s hygiene needs.
Connor Farrell talked recently with the Register about his project, and about his hopes for expanding the service to a wider area — even as he approaches his college years. “Originally, it was a family project,” Connor said, “However, it became a personal project for me because I’m the one who’s taken it to a new level. And when the pandemic hit, there was a greater need — because of higher demand for hygiene products, and because of supply chain issues, coupled with an increase in the homeless population in Greenville.”
Connor has somehow managed to balance his schoolwork, athletics (he is a competitive swimmer on his high school team as well as a community team), and his management of Bright Lights GVL. With college on the horizon, Connor plans to continue managing the website and handling the organization from his dorm room. He hopes that his younger siblings can help to pack the hygiene packages, and he will continue the project as his time permits.
Connor described himself as “a very independent person” — so it made sense that he would pursue his goal of helping the homeless. Asked whether his Catholic faith played a part in his empathy for those in need, he answered:
Absolutely! Something that wasn’t mentioned in most of the news articles [about Bright Lights Greenville] is that usually we package in our hygiene kits a motivational Bible verse, along with personal care items. That’s one way that we bring the aspect of faith into our organization.
The young entrepreneur understood that there are certain legal restrictions which prohibit a non-profit association from affiliating with a church. “Nevertheless,” he added, “we recognize that the homeless are valuable human beings, made in the image and likeness of God.”
Asked how readers could support his efforts, Connor suggested that they check out his website, Bright Lights Greenville, to make a donation or to learn more about the organization.