Andrea Morrison

Andrea Morrison, who founded Bicyclist Building Bridges to help young people visit loved ones in prison, appears on the YouTube show "Ellen, We Bought A Limo" on July 24. Provided

It was at the downtown Charleston intersection of Ashley and Spring streets where Andrea Morrison said God spoke directly to her.

Moments earlier, on a stormy July afternoon, Morrison sat crying in her car. The 50-year-old North Charleston woman, who recently moved to the area from Dillon, founded the nonprofit Bicyclist Building Bridges in 2015 to provide transportation for young people and their families to visit with imprisoned parents or guardians. Each family receives accommodations for four visits over a yearlong stretch.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, about 53 percent of the 1.5 million inmates in prisons across the United States were parents of minor children in 2007.

She had a team of roughly 30 volunteers but was still paying most expenses out of her own pocket, Morrison said. She had at least four trips to organize between July and August and was unsure whether she would have the necessary funds to make them all happen.

On July 24, Morrison was upset as she agonized over her group's financial future. But an encounter on the street with four men that was captured in a video uploaded to YouTube and an unexpected $1,000 donation would breathe new life into the effort.

"They were the most sincere group of people I've ever met," Morrison said. "They were like angels."

That afternoon, she had spotted talk show host Ellen DeGeneres' face printed on the back of a parked white limo. Morrison had been out driving for ride-sharing services to make money, she said.

Morrison was certain: This was a sign from above, adding that she felt compelled to talk with the four young men with a video camera who appeared to be interviewing passersby on the street.

"I thought they were Ellen's people," she said.

The chance encounter between Morrison and the four men was opportune. Since early July, the men have been traveling the United States, performing acts of kindness for strangers and donating to charitable causes.

The men from Oklahoma and Missouri have been documenting their travels and interactions with the people they help via their YouTube channel. They are traveling from Maine to California and expect to reach Los Angeles by mid-September, performing good deeds and donating to charitable causes along the way. They use a GoFundMe page to collect donations and award funds.

Through the video logging of their charitable adventures, group member Ty Gatewood, 22, said they aimed to attract DeGeneres' attention in hopes of sharing stories about their cross-country travels on her talk show. They dubbed their YouTube show “Ellen, We Bought A Limo.”

Gatewood recalled that Morrison didn't know where she'd get the money to keep doing what she had been doing.

“So would you be opposed to receiving $1,000?” one of the men said to Morrison in a videotaped portion of the encounter.

The woman began to weep.

"No, I wouldn’t be opposed at all," Morrison said in the video, tears streaming down her face. "You don’t know how bad I needed that."

The money was enough to fund the previously planned trips, which she said cost between $200 and $250 each, covering travel, lodging and two meals. It was the largest donation she has received.

Morrison herself had been released from prison in 2003 after serving 11 years for manslaughter. The inspiration for her project didn't come until later.

The name Bicyclist Building Bridges comes from the moment Morrison said she got the idea, when she was praying and riding her bicycle to work one day in 2014. She had been working in a chicken processing plant and a carpet production factory before leaving to start the nonprofit, now located at 3601 Meeting Street Road in North Charleston.

The recent encounter with the group was encouraging, she said. But, Morrison added, more support is needed if she's going to continue helping families make trips to prisons.

Families like Devetta Tucker's.

The father of Tucker's youngest son has been in federal prison for nine years. The main mode of communication the man has with his children is through letter-writing. In-person visits are difficult, Tucker said, because he has been transferred to different facilities across the country. He's now in Pennsylvania.

Tucker, a Charleston resident, last month learned about Bicyclist Building Bridges from the YouTube video showing Morrison's encounter. Tucker reached out to learn more about the nonprofit's services. She speaks with Morrison regularly about funds being raised that would allow her family to travel north to see the man, Tucker said.

"(Morrison) made a promise to us," Tucker said. "I won't stop. As long as Andrea's willing to put in the work to make it happen, so am I."

Reach Michael Majchrowicz at 843-607-1052. Follow him on Twitter @mjmajchrowicz.

Michael Majchrowicz is a reporter covering crime and public safety. He previously wrote about courts for the Daily Hampshire Gazette in Northampton, Massachusetts. A Hoosier native, he graduated from Indiana University with a degree in journalism.