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Readers share stories about inspiring strangers

From words of comfort to offering an umbrella on a rainy day, strangers have the power to change people and profoundly affect the way they lead their lives. NBC's Mike Leonard asked TODAY viewers to submit their stories of how a stranger they never got to thank helped them. Read about how random acts of kindness had big impacts:It was Mother's Day about five years ago, and as I was a single mother
/ Source: TODAY

From words of comfort to offering an umbrella on a rainy day, strangers have the power to change people and profoundly affect the way they lead their lives. NBC's Mike Leonard asked TODAY viewers to submit their stories of how a stranger they never got to thank helped them. Read about how random acts of kindness had big impacts:

It was Mother's Day about five years ago, and as I was a single mother at the time, my daughter wanted to do something special for me. I asked her what she wanted to do and she said to go out for breakfast. At the time, money was tight, and I knew I really couldn't afford it, but I saw the look in her eyes as she wanted to do this with me, so I caved. One of her favorite places to go was a local truck stop, which she thought had the best food. As we were sitting there an older gentleman and someone who I assumed was his son or grandson kept on watching my daughter and me, which made me a little nervous. They struck up a polite conversation with us, nothing out of the ordinary, asking what we were doing there, how old she was, what grade she was in and all the normal questions a grandfather would ask. Then he asked her what she was doing at the restaurant. Of course my daughter proudly announced that she was taking her mother out for Mother's Day breakfast. The older gentleman asked her how she was going to pay for it, and she looked at me and giggled and said, "My mom is paying."

As I went up to the buffet to get more food I kept my eye on her and the two gentlemen. When I returned, the two gentlemen had left. I asked her where they went and she said that they had left. The waitress brought us our check and I went to pay and my daughter grabbed the check and said that she was paying, I asked her how she intended to do this, and she said, "That nice older gentleman gave me money and told me to pay for breakfast." I looked around, in and outside of the restaurant and could not find either of the two gentlemen who sat beside us. I never found them so that I could thank them for the wonderful gesture that they had done. It was the most memorable Mother's Day ever. It showed my daughter that there are nice and giving people and gave me a renewed confidence that there are nice people in this world.

—Anonymous, Lewisberry, Pa. (submitted on Sept. 19, 2007)

My dog, whom my husband and I had since he was a puppy, had grown ill and had been unable to use his hind legs for a few months. He dragged himself around as best he could. One evening, I picked him up from a grooming appointment. It was dark, snowing, and cold. He weighed about 100 pounds, the same as me. I could not get him up the ramp from the sidewalk into the back of my SUV. I felt so sad because he was tired and couldn't lift himself. I was afraid to hurt him. I pushed and pulled him with no success in getting him into the car. I began to cry at the sadness and hopelessness of it and because this previously strong dog was now so weak. A woman, much bigger and stronger than me, approached my car. She told me her dog had gone through something similar. She then helped me gently lift him into the car and settle him on his blanket for the ride home. I thanked her and saw tears roll down her face and she left. My dog died just two months later, but I will never forget how that woman helped me and my sweet dog.

—Anonymous, Aurora, Colo. (submitted on Sept. 19, 2007)

When I was in college, a couple of friends and I drove up to Washington, D.C., for a long weekend one February. It was so warm when we left North Carolina that we almost didn't take jackets, but the weather took a drastic turn just before we started back home. As we were leaving D.C. we started seeing a few snowflakes, but since we were headed south, we thought we'd run out of the snow quickly. What we didn't know was that a major winter storm was rolling in from the south — a big low-pressure area pulling moisture from the Atlantic.

By the time we were halfway through Virginia, the snow was so deep we couldn't see the highway, and we were passing abandoned cars stuck by the side of the road. This was the ’70s — no cell phones, no On-Star. We were in trouble. We pulled off the highway to get gas in Ladysmith, Virginia — no town in sight, worried that we wouldn't be able to continue. The gas station attendant took all three of us into his home, where we spent the night with his family (including five Dobermans — the sweetest dogs I've ever seen). They shared their food, shelter and video games with us, and in the morning after the storm had passed, plowed their long driveway so we could be on our way. Of course, we were all grateful and expressed that profusely, but I think of our guardian angel from time to time, and I can't pass the Ladysmith exit now without another little prayer of thanks.

—Rosemary Karalius, Moncure, N.C .(submitted on Sept. 19, 2007)

My bank account was negative $300 (paying bills and my card number was stolen) and I was working three jobs while taking 18 credits along with an internship my sophomore year of college. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn't get all of my schoolwork done because my money problems were weighing down on me more and more. It eventually got to the point where I would work until the early A.M. hours and have to get up for an 8 A.M. interview recording for the internship. The day came when it was my most important interview in the entire semester and I had slept through my alarm and missed it. The two others I took the internship with kicked me out and claimed that I was a slacker. If only they knew. I tried to speak to my advisor about it, but he didn't understand either. I just broke down and ran out of the building. I sat down on the step and just drifted off, wondering what my life was going to be like with no money and failing my college courses because I was trying to earn that money back.

I guess I looked pathetic because a few minutes later this man sat down and asked what was wrong. Not thinking, I just told him everything that had happened to me and started crying all over again. We talked a bit longer and all I really remember is just telling him my name and age. A few days later I went to get the mail for my apartment when I found an extra envelope addressed to me that wasn't, for once, a bill. When I opened it, there was a letter that said "The church that I'm a pastor at would like to send you this gift and we wish you luck in all you do." Inside the envelope was an extra piece of paper which was a check for over $600!! The letter wasn't signed and I couldn't read the signature on the check, but the church was on it and that was enough for me to know it was real. Now, I'm not a religious person, but that day, I think I met a true angel, and if there is the chance that he would read this, I would like to thank him. Not only did he get me out of the negatives, but it even made me think about what I wanted to do with my life.

I'm working full time at a local television station now and I'm getting ready to go to recording school for radio broadcasting. Even though I dropped out of college, I believe that it was the right decision and there are some people out there who just aren't made for continuing education. To that pastor out there who helped me, thank you so much for everything!

—Anonymous, Ephrata, Pa. (submitted on Sept. 19, 2007)

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I was 15 and my family had recently moved to Fair Oaks, Calif. My sister and I were the only ones home and had just woken up when there was a knock on the door. He said our house was on fire!! I wasn't sure until I looked out and saw flames licking up the outside wall of the garage. He said we should get out quickly, pajamas and all! We went out to the front yard where all the neighbors were standing around watching! The man (angel) went into our house and by himself hauled out as much of our stuff as he could. When it was all over, he'd left as quickly as he came and we never got to say thank you. Everything we had left was in the backyard, not much else was left!! Thank you to the stranger who stopped off the freeway while the neighbors stood in the yard and watched!! Thank you to the unknown hero!!

—Becci Bogart, Eugene, Ore. (submitted on Sept. 18, 2007)

I had been married to my husband for three years and working as a nail technician. We were at a crossroads about whether to get pregnant or not. It was around Thanksgiving when an elderly woman came in to have her nails done. This was her first visit to the salon. We started to chat, and I found out that she was a widow with no children. She was celebrating the holiday with a friend, because she had no family around. She said it was a lonely time for her, now that her husband had passed, and I truly felt for this woman. Before she left, she made an appointment for Christmas time. I felt so sad for her and spoke to my husband about it, but we were still on the fence. When she came in at Christmas, it was again the same conversation. She made it clear about the importance of having a family around this time of the year. She seemed so alone and my heart went out to her. She was a lovely lady. Before she left, she made an appointment for New Year's Eve.

I went home that night and spoke with my husband, and we decided to try to get pregnant. The woman never showed up for her appointment that New Year's Eve, and I never saw her in the salon after that. I truly believe that she was sent to me for a reason. I don't know why, but I believe a higher power. In February I found out I was pregnant with our daughter.

—Lori Fornicola, Oakhurst, N.J. (submitted on Sept. 18, 2007)

One evening in April, we had to make the heart-wrenching decision to put our golden retriever, Caesar, to sleep. After leaving the vet, we (my father, brother and I) went to a local chain restaurant for a late dinner and to raise a glass in memory of our sweet old boy. The server asked how we were doing, and we explained what the purpose of our visit was. Shortly after bringing our drinks, he told us he had to leave to go let his own dog out and would be turning us over to another server for the duration of our meal. No problem. About 30 minutes later, however, he returned — bearing silk flowers and a Scooby-Doo balloon for us, because he said he understood our loss and wanted us to know that he cared. We of course were in tears, and asked to speak to the manager. He told us that this young man — all of 19 years old — had approached him with the idea, took up a collection among the staff, and had done this of his own accord, even being willing to give up the tip from our table to do it. This is something we will never forget, and has touched us so deeply. We did thank him — verbally and with a big tip — but to have his kindness acknowledged publicly would be such an honor.

—Anonymous , St. Louis, Mo. (submitted on Sept. 17, 2007)

I was pregnant with my third child and problems occurred in the seventh month. We had to go to a specialist 90 miles away for the last two months of the pregnancy. We knew that our baby would be staying in the NICU unit after delivery, but we did not know how long the stay would be. I couldn't stay at the Ronald McDonald House because I could not help with the work because I was going to have a C-section. A motel stay would have cost us way more than we could afford. A friend of ours said that her parents lived in the same city that I needed to find a place to stay. My husband and I went down the week before we were going into the hospital. They opened their house to a pair of strangers. I stayed with them for three weeks while my husband went back home to take care of our other two children.

Every morning they had breakfast ready for me, so I would have something for my long days staying at the hospital. They would also make sure that I had something for supper when I got back to their house. They would stop in at the NICU unit to see if I was taking care of myself while I sat and waited. These two wonderful people never asked anything from me and my husband. We stopped by their house with our beautiful baby girl before the three of us went back home after 22 days in the hospital. My mother quilted them a quilt for their hospitality. We have sent Christmas cards to each other for the past eight years. I can never thank them enough for all the hospitality that they showed me and my family.

—Kristi Kiley, Manitowoc, Wis. (submitted on Sept. 18, 2007)

My grandmother, Jane Waters, was telling me of a WWII reunion story this week! In 1943-44, she was 16 years old and living in LaFayette, Ga. (where we are still now...). Back then, convoys of troops would come through town on Hwy 27 between Atlanta and Chattanooga and everyone would line the streets to wave at the young boys. Boys would throw out pieces of paper with their names and addresses so girls would write. My grandmother began writing to Vincent Gish, a sandy-haired boy from Kentucky. He went overseas and continued writing for about two years. They lost contact when he was injured and in a hospital in France.

Meanwhile, 64 years later, my grandmother was notified of an ad in "good ole days" magazine where a Vincent Gish was looking for Jane (Hampton) Waters in Lafayette, Ga. She wrote to him and he called her this week! They spoke for an hour and he asked if he could call again — that they had 64 years to catch up. He is in California and sitting on his porch looking at her pictures that she had sent to him in 1944! He spoke about how he kept the letters and pictures, but his wife made his destroy the letters years ago. But they had gotten him through the hospital time. They talked about how his parents had asked for Jane to visit in Kentucky, but Jane's daddy refused the offer. They have never met in person, but share so many memories. I love to hear the stories of how "things were different then." How the ladies would meet upstairs in a building "on the square" in Lafayette every Thursday evening and make bandages and care packages for the soldiers and how no one dared speak bad of the president or any solder! God Bless.

—Holly McWhorter, LaFayette, Ga. (submitted on Sept. 18, 2007)

I was in my red, convertible Sunbird, age 26, on the shoulder of the Louisville expressway in the early '90s, and had a flat tire. People kept whizzing by, even police. I had my trunk open, obviously looking for the spare tire, and this truck (with a clothes dryer in the bed) pulls up behind me. Two huge men, both over 6 feet tall, one in sweats with flip-flops, no shirt, tattoos on both arms, and the other wearing a buttoned shirt and sweats, and a scarred face, walk up and ask if I need help. The first thing in my mind is that I am going to be chopped up into tiny pieces and thrown into the Kenmore in the truck bed. WAS I WRONG! The two men changed my tire, then directed me to the nearest gas station that had tires. They actually followed me there to make sure I made it! I offered to pay them for their time, and even give them gas money for going out of their way. I asked for their names and addresses to send something to them. They both declined all of it, and told me to have a safe trip back home. Then they were gone in an instant. As they say, never judge a book by its cover. I have never forgotten this, and have shared the story with many people over the years. I have found that angels come in all forms, looks, shapes and sizes.

—Anonymous, Ky. (submitted on Sept. 18, 2007)

I am a 74-year-old mother, grandmother and great-grandmother and several years ago, I was having lunch at a local chain restaurant, sitting alone at a table, when a family of five was seated nearby. I was sitting at a table for two and suddenly a young man, who seemed to be the middle son of the family of three boys, came over and asked if he could sit with me at my table. I was a little taken aback and looked over at the family to see if it was a joke, and they were talking among themselves and did not seem to be paying attention to what was going on. I told him that I would be happy to share my table with him and he sat down and we began the most enjoyable dinner conversation I had had in a long time. I found out that he and his family were on vacation and were from another part of the country. Being born and raised in Louisiana and a French "Cajun" to boot, I piqued his interest immensely, and he had many questions for me about my heritage, customs, and of course Cajun food. He was interested to know about my family and was very happy to share with me about his family and his plans for the future.

All in all it was a very rewarding and happy experience for me, and I hope he enjoyed it also. We ended the meal with a handshake and I wished him the best of luck with the rest of his life and he wished me well also. I have often thought of this young man. I marvel at the character of a young man in his early teens who saw an old lady sitting alone having a meal and came over to sit with her and share a lovely time together. He said he had plans to go to college after graduation from high school. Somehow I know that whatever he has chosen to do with his life that he is doing well. I strongly suspect that his brothers dared him to do this, and if they really did, I thank them very much for it was one of the most rewarding and enjoyable meals I had had in a very long time. I also know that this country will be in good hands as long as we have young men and women with this kind of character and tolerance of old people.

—Marjorie Prettelt, Gonzales, La. (submitted on Sept. 18, 2007)

I was having a really bad day. My relationship with my boyfriend was falling apart, my work situation seemed bleak and hopeless, I felt like I didn't have any friends. As I was leaving my office building, feeling humiliated and worthless, it started to pour down rain. I didn't have an umbrella and I was parked really far away. Just then, a stranger approached me and lent me her umbrella. I walked to my car, drove to the entrance of the building and returned the umbrella to her. I never saw her again, but she made me realize that you don't have to do really big things to have a huge impact. She gave me hope that things would get better. Because of this woman's kindness, I try to do small kindnesses to others. It makes me feel better and reminds me that I can make a difference.

—Anonymous, Tracys Landing, Md. (submitted on Sept. 18, 2007)

I was 18 years old and I had just finished EMT training. My first opportunity to brandish my young, unrefined and hasty skills would be as a volunteer with Othello ambulance service, in a town of about 2,000, 15 miles south of my hometown. The people there were warm and welcoming. The ambulance crews took me into their own homes and cooked me dinner. I knew their sons and daughters, and even some of their mothers and fathers. I thought I knew everything there was to know about death. Five years earlier, I'd been a hostage in a school shooting. At 13, I'd watched my childhood friend, my neighbor and my teacher die as my classmates lined up the surviving students (including myself) by alphabetical order using the roll call sheets. We were sure goners, save for the fact that the wrestling coach wandered into the room and managed a very hostile negotiations situation. And now here I was, ready to make a difference in the world. I was ready to share all I knew. I was eager to use CPR to save the ones who were meant to be saved, and just as likely to hold a dying person's hand and comfort them. This patient threw me for a surprise, though. My crew was paged to transport a cancer patient home. This patient was in his 30s. He'd been diagnosed with terminal cancer. Too young to drive the ambulance, I provided all patient care when I worked. I would sit with this man for 40 minutes while we drove him back to his house near O'Sullivan Dam to die.

I'll remember this person because he talked so candidly about death. He had no desire to put on a brave front in front of a cute, 18-year old girl. He told me about his favorite fishing hole. He told me about his wife and his work. It was so damn hot in that beast they called an ambulance. It had seen its day and the dust somehow found its way into the bus as we pulled up to a driveway so steep, I thought that thing would tip over. I listened while he talked about feeling sorry for his wife, because she would have to be the one to deal with all of this. The encounter I'd had with death many years earlier was different; it included the element of violence, and at an early age, I lost my sense of safety and was so emotionally exhausted trying to cope with that, that I hadn't had a chance to examine the many facets of loss that happened in one afternoon. But this man had lived and suffered through many painful months and reflected on all the really important things ... like family, fishing holes and friends. I went home that day promising myself I'd honor this experience and respected the fact that somehow, God had considered me worthy of this man's moments on this Earth. Today, I'm 25, and I'm a dispatcher for Spokane County Sheriff's Office. I try my best to remember my deputies and their families, and treat them as if they are my own family. I do everything I can to make sure they go home to their families, friends and fishing holes.

—Emily Stuber-Groshon, Spokane, Wash. (submitted on Sept. 18, 2007)