Owner-operator Allen Hale was inspired by a runaway to launch Project: Guardian Angel.
Something about the young girl sitting alone in a Tennessee restaurant reminded trucker Allen Hale of his daughters. She wasn’t eating or drinking anything, and she was carrying a duffle bag.
Hale, a veteran owner-operator leased to Shaffer Trucking Company, could tell she needed help. He stopped to talk to her and found out she had run away from home when her mother’s new boyfriend acted inappropriately. She was headed to Chattanooga to find her father, but she didn’t know his phone number or address.
Hale didn’t want to leave the girl alone, but she refused to let him contact the police. “I had no idea what to do because I wasn’t familiar with the area,” Hale says. “But I knew I had to do something to help her.”
An elderly couple from Chattanooga overheard their conversation and gave Hale a card for their church, where someone could help the girl find her father. He called the church and left the teen with a family there.
She called Hale a few days later and told him she was getting ready to do something she had never done before. She was going to go to church.
Hale has seen a lot of runaways in his 25 years as a long-haul trucker. But he says something about this one set him thinking. He decided he wanted to do something to help other runaways like her.
“One day, God told me, ‘I showed you the plan – you take it out there to them,'” Hale says.
That’s when Hale set in motion a plan called Project: Guardian Angel from his home in Randolph County, N.C. The project involves a network of “safe havens,” volunteer families who would be willing to temporarily house a runaway youth until the authorities, the child and the child’s family can work out a solution.
The program recruits its safe haven families from churches. Most are ministers or youth ministers, people who have worked with children and teens before. “Some came and asked to be safe havens because they were runaways once and know what they’re going through,” Hale says.
Project: Guardian Angel recruits volunteer families from churches and trains them at Randolph Community College in North Carolina.
The program performs background checks and conducts one-on-one interviews with potential safe haven families. Then the families are trained at Randolph Community College. Hale intends to expand Project: Guardian Angel throughout the state and eventually take it nationwide.
Sheriff’s deputies pick up runaways and take them to the safe havens when calls are placed to the toll-free number, 1-866-ANGEL41. A live female voice answers the phone 24 hours a day. “A child just feels more comfortable talking to a female when they’re in need,” Hale says.
The number is also a resource for people passing through who notice a runaway youth in need. “It’s not just for the children to call,” Hale says. “It’s an opportunity for people who travel to call. You see a child; this allows you to help them.”
The community has lent its support to Hale’s project, says his wife Ronnie. “He’s got a lot of people backing him,” she says.
Foster children they’ve had in the past and Hale’s own two daughters were part of his inspiration, she says. “We have a teenage daughter who went through a rough stage,” she says. “We have two girls, and he pictured something like that happening to them and them not having a Christian person out there to help.”