Money raised for Christian charity inspired by words of late teenager

Published 4:31 pm Monday, January 8, 2024

By Matt Cizek, the Winchester Sun

In late April 2023, Hallee Bridgeman lost her son, 14-year-old Johnathan “Jeb” Bridgeman, after he was hit by a motor vehicle along Bypass Road in Winchester. Eight months after the tragedy, she is using the legacy left behind by her son to promote a positive cause. In her son’s name, Bridgeman and others have come together to design T-shirts with a saying of Jeb’s, which can be bought online with proceeds going toward the Christian Appalachian Project.

“My son, Johnathan, had the biggest heart in the world for anyone in need or homeless. If we were walking down the street in Louisville or Lexington, he would empty his pockets before he even got where he was going”, said Hallee Bridgeman. “He would just give people whatever he had. My husband and I have wanted to do something for those in need, in his name.”

During research, Hallee and her husband, William, came across the Christian Appalachian Project. Begun in northern Kentucky over 50 years ago, the Christian Appalachian Project – as stated on its website – “has served the people of Appalachia by building hope, transforming lives, and sharing Christ’s love.”

The latter, in particular, was a deciding factor in the Bridgeman’s choosing which charity to work with – something that his mother states Johnathan – who had previously lived with his family in Fort Knox – would have supported entirely. “He worked regularly doing the [School Food Pantry Program] with Feeding America. They would go to [a] warehouse and fill backpacks with food that would be sent home to kids who didn’t have enough food to get through the weekend,” Hallee Bridgeman said. “He loved that he did that. He was really proud of it.” The Christian Appalachian Project positively impacts more than one million people annually through donor support, volunteers, and other means.

The organization works with food banks, humanitarian service providers, and more across 13 states, including Kentucky. Yet the idea of what to do came about when reflecting on how Johnathan spoke with his godfather, Gary Hetzel, when the latter’s wife was critically ill.

“At [Jonathan’s] funeral, his godfather was telling the story of when his godmother was dying of cancer…Jeb pulled him aside and said…’God is really good’. Gary said, ‘Jeb, this sucks.’ Jeb said, ‘I know, but God is really good even when it sucks’,” Bridgeman explained. “I made the comment about that on social media, and one of my followers said, ‘you should turn that into a T-shirt.’”

Before long, Bridgeman was in contact with fellow churchgoer Ken Rank, who also owns HillTop Designs. They designed a t-shirt, quoting Jeb as stating, “God is Good (even when it sucks)”. The T-shirts can be ordered at the following link: Prices vary from $20-$22.

While Bridgeman notes that her son’s words have served as a reminder in their own way during the wake of his passing, she is also hopeful that the future will continue to yield beneficial results. “I think that there will always be something that we do every year,” Bridgeman said. “We will always do something for those in need in Jeb’s name…because that was where his heart was.”