TODAY   |  September 01, 2013

New life for former homeless man who returned ring

“His spirit has been rejuvenated,” said Sarah Darling, who accidentally dropped her engagement ring in Billy Ray Harris’ donation cup in February. Harris returned the ring, and the story inspired donors around the world. He now has a car, and his own house. TODAY’s Erica Hill reports.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

we do want to update you that morning on a homeless man we first featured here on "today" back in february. it's tough to forget his story. billy ray harris was on the street asking for change when a woman accidentally dropped her ring into the cup. he didn't sell it. gave it back. and that changed his life for the better. panhandling used to be a way of life for billy ray harris. but these days he has a new home, a new car, a new lease on life.

>> when i think of the past, i think thank god that it's over. i feel human now.

>> in february a homeless billy ray sat in his usual spot hoping for spare change when sarah darling accidentally dropped her engagement ring in his cup.

>> i didn't really look. i was walking by and i just kind of went like that.

>> billy ray did think about selling the precious piece of jewelry.

>> just couldn't do it. i'm not saying -- i'm no saint but i'm no devil either.

>> but instead held on to it waiting for sarah to return. a few days later she did.

>> it's such a feeling of loss when it was gone and so i was so eternally grateful for you.

>> so grateful sarah and her husband, bill, set up a fund for billy ray . his story made national headlines.

>> her engagement ring --

>> a homeless missouri man --

>> immediately returned the ring.

>> and led to an appearance on our show.

>> a lot of people who had been touched by the story had expressed interest in helping billy ray , and we set the goal for $1,000.

>> the donations far surpassed their goals n. three months they raised more than $190,000. but that wasn't all. billy ray was about to get another surprise. a reunion with the family he hadn't seen in more than 16 years.

>> this is a really big surprise.

>> these days he and his family are working on their relationship as billy ray adjusts to his new life and newfound fame in kansas city .

>> just some of the same people but only now instead of giving me change they come up and shake my hand. hey, good job.

>> billy ray sought legal counsel and put the money in a trust. he was able to buy that new car.

>> it feels good.

>> and he's put a down payment on a house.

>> doing a lot of the work myself. it feels good, you know. just to be able to think of buying a house. when they call it the american dream .

>> soon he plans to start his own business.

>> i'm thinking about getting a pickup to haul around a paint gun, two ladders and some other painting equipment and doing my own thing.

>> he definitely seems his spirit has been rejuvenated. he has a chance to express himself more, you know, buy a new car and buy new clothes.

>> just a solid guy and you can tell he's probably going to make it out all right.

>> they still see each other every few weeks. on this day he's showing off his new ride.

>> i've heard he doesn't know how to drive. we'll see.

>> but what billy ray would really like to show is gratitude to everyone who supported him.

>> i want to thank all the people that helped me out. i wanted them to see all their efforts of kindness.

>> it's a great story, and we were so looking forward to the update. it's amazing, too, how many lives we touched, over $ed 191,000. 8,300 plus people donated. many people drawn into the story.

>> it's good to see they keep in touch, too.

>> isn't that nice? they have really developed this it relationship when they were here we all noticed.

>> changed his life on so many levels.