The seed was planted long before the idea bloomed, much like the house existed before the foundation was built.
But this is how life works sometimes, and the way Tigers pitcher Matthew Boyd and his wife, Ashley, see it, maybe that's how it was meant to be.
Call it a leap of faith or a twist of fate. But in the midst of Boyd’s career-best season on the mound, this deeply religious couple is making another pitch, answering a calling they’ve felt for years.
The nonprofit they created last year, Kingdom Home, as part of a larger mission to help end child sex trafficking through prevention, already has more than doubled in size and scope. And while Boyd readily admits, “It’s happening faster than I thought it would,” that’s a good thing.
The Boyds established Kingdom Home last year to support a woman in Uganda named Dorothy Stella Alue who had rescued 36 girls from a variety of tragic situations ranging from sex slavery to forced marriages to abandonment. Dorothy had a home, but needed support, particularly after the death of her husband. And Ashley Boyd, who’d graduated from Oregon State with a degree in political science and a passion for social justice, knew this was an answer to her prayers.
After college, she’d worked for another organization, Remember Nhu, involved in combating child sex slavery in underdeveloped countries. Ashley stepped away from that work – her “dream job,” she called it -- to give birth to her own daughter, Meira, in 2017. And in the months that followed, “I just felt like there was something else in store.”
Just what it was wouldn’t become clear until last spring. The Boyds, who met in college and married in late 2014, had visited with Carl Ralston, Remember Nhu’s co-founder and one of Ashley's mentors, around Christmas, and discussed his vision for creating other faith-based charities pursuing the same goal.
The International Labor Organization estimates more than 1 million children are victims of sex trafficking each year. That equates to 3,000 children a day, or one new victim every 30 seconds.
So when Ralston called the Boyds during spring training to tell them about Alue’s story, “it just sort of all came together,” Matthew said.
In fact, even before that call, they’d already planned a trip to Uganda, a diverse country nestled in east-central Africa. It’s one of the world’s youngest countries, with 55% of the population under the age of 18. It’s also one of the poorest nations, according to the World Bank.
But Ashley Boyd knew it as something else, having visited Uganda as part of a high school exchange program more than a decade ago.
“It’s such a beautiful place and the people are just the most generous and kind and gracious people you’ll ever meet in your whole life,” she said. “So I’ve always cared about that country, and loved it, and I’ve always wanted to go back. And I told Matt even before we got married, ‘I’m gonna take you there and show you.’”
She just wasn’t sure how or when, or even why, quite frankly, until last spring. Initially, they donated $100,000 of their own money to start Kingdom Home, with Ashley serving as executive director. Some of Boyd’s teammates in Detroit -- he was acquired from Toronto along with Daniel Norris in the David Price trade in 2015 -- kicked in money as well to help sponsor some of the children in Dorothy’s home.
The Boyds’ two-week visit last November to finally meet Dorothy and the children in person only reaffirmed the couple’s mission.
“I don’t know what I expected to see, but the coolest thing was going there and seeing children as they should normally be,” Matt said. “You would never know some of their past (suffering) or that some were abandoned. They were just living as children should – joyful, happy, playing.”
Even playing a little baseball after some impromptu lessons from the visiting major leaguer. Some singing and dance lessons, too, for the Americans, and a bit of soccer, though a friendly game in the yard accidentally led to a broken water tap, which sent them all walking a mile down the road with water jugs until a local handyman could get it fixed. Just one of countless reality checks in what Matt described as an "eye-opening experience."
There were other discoveries during the stay. Some were structural, including the need for a propane stove to replace the old coal one in the home. But most others were emotional, as they experienced daily life in and around Dorothy's home.
“It was just fun to get to know them as real people, not just stories that I’ve heard,” Ashley said. “They all have their own quirks and personalities.”
'They have a family now'
They also have company now, though, as Kingdom Home is in the process of adding two nearby homes under its financial roof – one with 16 boys, another housing 42 girls. And that brings the Boyds, who recently announced they're expecting a second child of their own in late August, back to where they’re at now, home in Detroit working on building on that foundation.
The Boyds raised nearly $40,000 at a TopGolf fundraiser they held in Tampa during spring training, and they’re hoping to match that with one here in Detroit. On May 20, Boyd and many of his Tigers teammates will gather for an event held at the new TopGolf facility in Auburn Hills.
They’ve already hit their $75,000 target to fund the purchase of land in Uganda once they find a suitable location. Currently, the three homes they’re working with are all established rentals, in compliance with government agencies that send some of the rescued children there.
The Boyds' next funding goal – another $100,000 – will go toward building the first of what they expect will be a handful of homes on property that’ll also include some self-sustaining farmland.
“We hope to break ground by the end of the year,” Ashley said. “So that’s what our fundraising event on May 20 is all about, getting the money to build the homes.”
In the meantime, they’re continuing to solicit sponsors to cover the individual children’s month-to-month needs. It costs $120 per month to fully sponsor a child, and all of the children in Dorothy’s home are at least partially covered.
They’re cautious about how this is all being perceived – “I don’t want anybody to feel like we’re fulfilling a personal need here,” Matt says – and the Boyds recoil when they see the term “adopted” used in media reports about Kingdom Home. These aren’t their children, after all. They’re simply children who need some of the basic life necessities most of us take for granted: food, clothing, shelter, security.
“They have a family now, with the other girls in the home and with Dorothy,” Matt said. “That’s their family, and it’s pretty special.”
So is the response they’ve gotten as their mission has garnered more attention.
It started in the Tigers’ clubhouse, where teammates have plunked down six-figure donations and helped spread the word.
“I think Nick (Castellanos) said it best, ‘It’s pretty cool that it’s not that hard to do something like this,’” said Boyd, who along with his wife hosted the Tigers' bible study groups during spring training. “I mean, it’s hard, don’t get me wrong. But the biggest step is the first one.”
After that, it’s one after the other. Like on Sunday, following the Tigers’ extra-inning win over Kansas City at Comerica Park, as the Boyds shared their story at Waterford’s Redeemer Church. The pastor there, Paul Edwards, an avid Tigers fan, presented the couple with a $6,000 check for Kingdom Home, and members of the congregation signed up as sponsors. Or the call out of the blue from another nonprofit, Global H2O, promising to donate a well to the new property in Uganda.
“It’s been so incredible to see the outpouring of support,” Ashley said. “At times, it’s been a little overwhelming. … But it’s all just been amazing. And we’re really just getting started.”
► For more information on Kingdom Home, visit kingdomhome.org.