Not long ago, Detective Matt Thornton’s life was saved by what some might call divine intervention.
The 13-year veteran of the Zion Police Department nearly gave in to the pressures of being a police officer, pushed so close to the edge he had decided to kill himself.
But while sitting in his squad car that fateful day, moments away from taking his own life, a woman walked up to his police car.
“Through the window, she hands me this cross, then just walks away with no explanation at all,” Thornton said.
The simple gesture was enough to change Thornton’s life, and one year later, he embarked on a mission hoping to do for at-risk youth what that mystery woman did for him.
Thornton started My Father’s Business, a cherished program at Wesley Free Methodist Church in Zion that gives kids a place to hang out, play basketball, eat and even occasionally get a haircut every Friday.
Thornton uses his own car, along with a small group of supporters, to pick up every child that attends the Friday event.
But what started as a small group has transformed into something much larger.
“We average anywhere from six to eight carloads,” Thornton said.
While he uses much of his own money to fund the program, he’s hoping to fundraise to buy a bus to pick up the children he takes in each week.
“That would cut down on our time, we could spend more time [at the church],” he said. “Those are our shining moments.”
Thornton has started a GoFundMe campaign to help the group purchase a used bus. As of Wednesday, about $4,000 of the $12,000 needed had been raised.
"There are simply not enough vehicles to support our large army," the GoFundMe page read.
The kids who attend the group say the program is everything Thornton intended it be.
“He does a great program for us kids to just interact with each other,” said Marzell Jordan.
Thornton said the group doesn’t just improve relationships between the kids, it’s also working to better the relationship between police and the community.
“I can actually get them in a place where they trust me so I can vouch for my partners and let them know we love you,” he said. “We all love you.”
In the end, while Thornton hopes to raise funds to support the group, he said no amount of money could keep him from this work.
“The satisfaction that I get from doing this is worth more than any dollar amount,” Thornton said.