Sep. 1, 2013 at 10:57 AM ET
Six months ago, 55-year-old Billy Ray Harris was homeless. He lived on a street corner in Kansas City, holding out a cup and asking passers-by for spare change. But then, one day, his life changed.
In February, Sarah Darling passed Harris at his usual spot and dropped some change into his cup. But, unbeknownst to her, she also accidentally dropped in her engagement ring. Though Harris considered selling the ring — he got it appraised for $4,000 — he ultimately couldn’t go through with it, and a few days later, he returned the ring to Darling.
As a way to say thank you, Darling and her husband Bill Krejci started a fund to raise money for Harris to help him get his life back on track. “We set a goal for a thousand dollars,” Darling told TODAY in March. “We set it up because a lot of people who had been touched by the story expressed interest in helping Billy Ray.”
The fund raised far more than any of them expected — in just three months, people donated more than $190,000.
Harris talked to a lawyer, who helped him put the money in a trust. Since then, he’s been able to buy a car and even put money down on a house, which he’s fixing up himself.
And that's not all: After he appeared on TV, his family members, who had not been able to find him for 16 years and had heard rumors he was dead, were able to track him down. They were happily reunited, and Harris is now working on his relationship with them, including nieces and nephews he hadn’t even known existed.
"When I think of the past, I think, thank God that it's over," he told TODAY. "I mean, I feel human now."
And the Kansas City community hasn’t forgotten about Harris and his good deed. “I still see some of the same people,” he says, “but only now, instead of coming up and giving me change, they're coming up shaking my hand and, you know, saying ‘hey, good job’.”
Since the fateful day that Darling’s ring landed in his cup, Harris’ life has done a 180. “This is what they call the American Dream,” he says. “I want to thank all the people that helped me out. I want them to see where all their efforts, blessings and kindness is going.”
And he has lifelong friends in the couple whose ring he returned.
Krejci and Darling now have a 20-month-old daughter, and they look forward to introducing her to Harris and explaining the role he played in her parents’ life. “I’ve talked to other mothers about this,” Darling says. “It gives [other moms] a real tangible story of really teaching kind of the difference between what’s wrong and what’s right."
Harris isn’t only good luck for the couple — he also appears to be good luck for the local baseball team! Krejci and Darling have taken Harris to six Kansas City Royals games, including one for Krejci’s recent birthday, and every single time the home team won.
“Overall, it just makes me feel good,” Darling says of the generous outpouring of support for Harris. “A lot of people came together to change this person's life when he is someone who really deserves that.”