June 4, 2014 at 7:18 PM ET
Just a few weeks ago, Troy Branch didn't think he'd get to see his son graduate from high school. With resources tight and his car not in good working order, the three-and-a-half hour drive from his home in Tallahassee to his son's school in Tavares, Florida didn't seem likely.
So when he came across a Reddit thread asking users to post what was on their bucket lists, he shared that his wish to see his son get his diploma was at the top of his list.
"I just threw that out there, that I'd like to see my son graduate," he told TODAY.com. And the responses quickly flooded in.
First, someone pointed him in the direction of MegaBus, a budget bus company where he was able to find an incredibly affordable ticket to get to Orlando for $7.50. "Someone even looked up the route for me," he said. "I just had to click the link he gave me — I booked it right then."
Then, more users of the online community pitched in to help.
"Another kind Redditor said, 'I've got Holiday Inn points, I'll book your room,'" Branch said. All that was left was to arrange a ride from Orlando to Tavares for the graduation — and again, Reddit saved the day.
"Another Redditor who happened to be in Orlando at the time offered to give me a ride," he said of a young woman and her brother who showed up to get him. "I didn't know what she looked like, so I just got off the bus and yelled 'Reddit' and there they were!"
Sure enough, he made it in time to see his son Ty graduate on May 30. Thanks to the generosity of other users, who donated around $300 to him via PayPal, he was able to take his two sons out to the movies and to eat while he visited them. He was grateful for the help and the quality time he got with his kids, all too rare these days due to how far apart they live.
"It was amazing to see all these perfect strangers reach out and help," he said. "I got some new friends out of it — it was an all around great experience."
Branch has been a member of the online community on Reddit for about a year, and said he's found support through the site for other issues he's been dealing with, as well as entertainment through the funny posts shared there.
"The kindness of strangers has just amazed me," he said. "I’ve always been the kind of guy that’s tried to help people out when they’re in need and it’s nice to see that reciprocated."
And while he was willing to open up to the Internet, he said he never told his son that he wasn't going to be able to attend his graduation, hoping that he would be able to figure something out. "That was his wish, for me to be there," he said. "I didn't have the heart to tell him that I wasn't."
So when he was able to make it, Branch shared with his son just what had gone into the trip, and said Ty was happy to hear what happened.
"He thought it was pretty cool," Branch said. "He thought it was really neat to see strangers reach out and help somebody."