Five minutes was all it took for Jonathan Allen’s life to completely change.
Allen was 8 or 9 years old when he and his brother were taken from his mother by child protective services. They had five minutes to fit whatever they could in a backpack, and it was the start of a long, haunting path for Allen and his brother, as they experienced the difficulties of growing up in the foster care system.
It was through the determination of his father, Sgt. 1st Class Richard Allen Jr., that they were able to live together as a family again. The 10 months living in shelters and foster homes shaped Allen's life forever, and it's the catalyst for his work with Sasha Bruce Youthwork.
"We not only wanted to give money and resources; we also wanted to give time," Allen said in a first-person story on NFL.com. "Because at the end of the day, kids who are going through trauma need to know -- and should know -- people are in their corner."
Allen's parents divorced when he was 3 years old. His mother gained custody of him and his brother while their father was deployed as a nuclear biological chemical warfare specialist for the U.S. Army in South Korea. After being taken by child protective services, a judge ruled that Allen and his brother couldn't return to live with their mother.
"And that was it," Allen said in an NFL360 video. "Me and Richard ended up in the system, moving from shelter to shelter, foster home to foster home."
Richard was Jon's support system during that time. He was strong enough for the both of them, Jon said, and acted as Jon's protector.
Until the day the two were briefly separated. For the first time in one of the darkest portions of Allen's life, he was truly alone.
"That was by far the hardest, darkest, loneliest place I've been in my entire life," Allen said.
Allen's father never gave up fighting to be reunited with him and his brother. It took over a year's worth of custody battles spanning multiple states, but eventually Allen's father won. They were together again. It was the single greatest moment of Allen's life, and it proved something valuable to him: he was worth fighting for.
"That's an extremely hard thing to understand and realize as a kid, but my father's determination to always be present, along with the fact that he never gave up on us, showed me as much," Allen said.
Allen's father taught him all the qualities he had learned in the military: hard work, dedication and discipline. He learned the values of sacrifice and humility in addition to having a relentless work ethic. These traits are what helped Allen put in the work to become a first-round pick in 2017, and they still guide him in his fifth season.
Everybody needs somebody, Allen said, and his father was that person for him. The notoriety and fame that he now has as an NFL player are nothing compared to knowing in his darkest moments that someone was there to pull him out of it. That's what he wants to be for the kids at Sasha Bruce Youthwork. He's been through the battles they're fighting, and he wants to provide as much support as possible.
"We not only wanted to give money and resources; we also wanted to give time," Allen said of his wife, Hannah, and himself.
Sasha Bruce Youthwork is a homeless shelter that helps young people in the Washington, D.C., area find safe homes, achieve and maintain good physical and mental health, create and strengthen supportive and stable families, and explore opportunities in education and careers. Allen has been more than happy to provide those resources, as he unveiled an innovation lounge at The Bruce House, as part of a partnership with Microsoft and Papa John's.
But more importantly, Allen also wants kids growing up in foster homes to know one simple fact.
"You are not alone," Allen said.