Often times acts of kindness come from the most unexpected places. People every day can surprise us with good deeds, as long as we open our minds and allow them to rectify common misconceptions. Such was the case for Missouri woman, Sarah Darling, and her chance encounter with a local Kansas City homeless man.
After offering a small donation to an impoverished man begging on the street, Sarah was shocked to find out that her engagement ring had gone missing. When she returned to confront the man, Sarah immediately understood that this was just the beginning of a life-changing story.
Sarah’s Huge Mistake
Owner of Darling Yoga Studio, Sarah Darling, was devasted when she found out that she had lost her diamond engagement ring. She rarely let it out of her sight, however, after injuring her finger earlier that day, Sarah had no choice but to remove the ring for the time being. She kept it in her purse for safekeeping while she let herself heal.
On that particular day, Sarah passed by a homeless man that she often saw sitting on the street. She approached the man, dug out some loose change from her purse, and placed her donation in the man’s cup. Sarah then went about her morning without a second thought.
Realizing What Had Happened
Sarah did not notice that she had lost her ring until she had arrived home. She was distraught when she realized that it was missing from her purse. When reflecting on that moment, Sarah says, “it was horrible. It was such a feeling of loss. It meant so much to me beyond just the financial value.”
After realizing that her prized possession was missing, Sarah thought back to where it could have gone. She remembered that she had opened her purse once when offering change to a homeless man on the street. She decided to retrace her steps to try and track down this man.
Retracing Her Steps
Sarah assumed that her ring must have accidentally fallen out with the change that she dropped into the homeless man’s cup. It was the only time she had opened her purse that day so it seemed the best logical solution as to where the ring could have fallen out.
She knew that the chances of the man being in that same spot the next day were very slim, but regardless decided it was worth a try. Sarah returned to the place where she remembers seeing the homeless beggar, but he was nowhere to be found.
Sarah was beginning to lose all hope that she would ever see her ring again. Fortunately, her husband, Bill, convinced her to check for the man once more. Sarah returned once again to the same spot the following day, and to her delight, the homeless man was sitting in the same place, holding the same cup.
Sarah approached him with a hopeful smile and said, “I don’t know if you remember me, but I think I gave you something that’s very precious to me.” His response had Sarah in tears. He said, “Was it a ring? Yeah, I have it, I kept it for you.”
Overwhelmed with Relief
It felt like a miracle. Sarah felt so lucky that the man not only found her ring but kept it for safekeeping in case she returned for it. She knew that most people in his position would try to pawn off the ring for a few warm meals, but to her luck, this particular individual was someone special.
Sarah could not find the right words to thank him. She wanted the kind stranger to understand how much the ring meant to her but was at a loss for words. She took back her diamond engagement ring and graciously thanked him as much as she could.
The man who returned Sarah’s ring was 55-year-old, Billy Ray Harris. For many years now, panhandling had become a way of life for Billy Ray. He lived on a street corner in Kansas City and spent his days holding out a cup and asking passers-by for spare change.
Billy Ray had lost touch with his family 16 years ago and ended up on the street to fend for himself. When he found the engagement ring that had accidentally ended up into his change cup, he was understandably conflicted. Harris debated selling the ring and even went to a local jeweler to see how much it was worth.
Making the Right Decision
The jeweler was ready to give Billy Ray $4000 on the spot for the ring. He knew that meant that it was worth a lot more than he could have even imagined. Though he admits, he considered taking the money; Billy Ray decided to keep the ring.
In realizing that the ring was probably very important to someone, beyond its financial worth, Billy Ray decided to wait and see if someone would come looking for it. This decision would change the course of his life forever.
Sure enough, just a couple days later, a distressed Sarah Darling came back to Billy Ray’s usual spot and asked if he had found the ring. Harris took out the small piece of jewelry and handed it to Sarah. Harris later spoke about the temptation of selling the ring and said, “I just couldn’t do it. I’m not saying I’m an angel, but I’m not a devil either.”
Sarah was astonished and tried to express her gratitude to the kind stranger. He later said to her, “I could tell exactly how much it meant to you as soon as I held it up.” Sarah reflected on that moment, saying, “it just makes you realize there are good people out there.”
Wanting to Give Back
Sarah was so overwhelmed with Billy Ray’s honesty. Despite his situation, living on the street and begging for change, he still felt compelled to save the ring and return it to her. She could not believe how lucky she was to have lost her ring to such a kind and genuine man.
Sarah Darling and her husband Bill knew they needed to repay Harris for his compassion. They wanted to help him somehow the way that he had helped Sarah in her time of need. “It was just such a feeling of loss when it was gone, so I am so eternally grateful for him,” says Sarah.
Darling and her husband decided to launch a fundraiser for their local hero. They set up a GoFundMe page in hopes to raise $1000 to gift to Billy Ray for his honesty. Sarah and Bill wanted to be sure that his actions did not go unheard, and they took to the internet to tell the story of his kindness.
The response they received on the page was bigger than they could have ever predicted. People near and far took it upon themselves to share their gratitude for Billy Ray, and the donations did not stop pouring in.
Above and Beyond Expectations
When Sarah and Bill began their efforts to raise money for Billy, they had the goal of helping the homeless man pay for a few meals or buy some fresh clothes. Instead, she and her husband earned Billy enough money for way more than a new wardrobe.
“We set it up because a lot of people that were touched by this story expressed interest in helping Billy Ray. We set the goal for $1000 and were hoping to achieve maybe $4000 because that is what he was offered on the spot for the ring,” Sarah said. The donations kept coming in as the heartwarming story made its way across the nation.
Overwhelming Public Response
Many people were taken back by Sarah’s heartwarming story and wanted to help give back. Since creating the page and beginning their efforts to raise money for Billy Ray, the story of the generous homeless man had made national headlines.
Sarah and Bill set up the fundraising page for Billy Ray in hopes of raising about $1000 for their generous new friend. Instead, within three months and with over 8,000 people donating, the grateful couple successfully collected more than $190,000.
Kind Words from Around the World
People were not only happy to contribute to Billy Ray’s cause, but they also had many warm words to say about his honesty. One contributor, all the way from England wrote, “In life what goes around comes around Billy-your sweet actions, despite being dire straits yourself, prove that there is humility in the world. You are one shining example. Lots of love from across the pond.”
Another took the opportunity to share their own similar story. “Several years ago, my mother’s ring was stolen from my house. To this day, I recall the empty feeling in the pit of my stomach. Hopefully, your honest example will encourage others to pay it forward. Kudos to you, Billy Ray.”
A New Lease on Life
When Sarah and Bill approached Billy Ray with the unbelievable donation, he could not believe his ears. He had no idea that so many people had heard his story and that people felt so moved by him that they wanted to pay their thanks to his good deed. Billy, being the humble man that he had already proved himself to be, did not fully understand this generosity.
“I like it, but I don’t think I deserve it,” said Harris. He went on to say that to him; the decision to keep the ring should not have been such a big deal, but rather that kind acts like these should be the general expectation. “What I actually feel like, what has the world come to when someone returns something that doesn’t belong to him, and all this happens?”
A Local Hero
The Kansas City community continued to commend Harris for his kindness. “I still see some of the same people,” Billy 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.'”
Billy Ray truly proves that honesty pays off. If he would have sold the ring, he would have made some spending money but ultimately still be living on the street. With this generous donation and newfound fame, Billy Ray not only made the money that he would have from selling the ring but also had enough to get him off the streets.
No Longer Homeless
With the money, Billy Ray had received the irreplaceable gift of a fresh start in life. After all those years living on the street, he finally had the opportunity to get his life back on track. He was determined to use the money wisely. Harris talked to a lawyer, who helped him put the money in a trust.
Through the charitable donations, Billy had enough money to buy himself a new car and even put a down payment on a home of his own. The house is a fixer-upper that Billy plans on reconstructing himself. Little did he know, this was only the start of his luck.
The Best Gift of All
Billy Ray’s community fame, new car, and home could not begin to compare to the best gift of all, reuniting with his family. After appearing on TV with the story, Billy Ray’s family members, who had been searching for him for 16 years, were finally able to track him down.
Billy’s family had heard rumors that their brother had passed away, so seeing his face on the television, talking about his act of kindness left them over the moon with happiness and relief. Harris was not only given a second chance at life off the streets, but he was now also given a chance to finally reunite with his brothers and sisters.
Finding Her Long Lost Brother
Billy’s youngest sister Robin spoke about discovering that her brother was alive and well, “I got on the computer one morning and I knew it was my brother as soon as I saw the picture.” Robin lived over 500 miles away in Wichita Falls, Texas but eventually tracked him down.
Robin did not hesitate to reach out to her older brother. “We cried on the phone and talked about how happy we were that we found each other because he said he was worried about me too. He had been gone so long,” Robin said.
Reconnecting with Family
Billy Ray was overwhelmed with happiness that his sister reached out. “I’m glad that we all got in touch with each other. I was really worried about them and they were worried about me, and there were so many stories going around in Texas that I was dead or in Arkansas and nobody knew anything,” said Billy.
Billy revealed that Robin even had him on craigslist trying to find her long lost brother. Now Billy Ray speaks with his family almost every day, and he can not wait to see them again, “We are actually talking about having a family reunion. I can’t wait I got happy feet.” Billy Ray said. Luckily, the world was listening and Billy Ray did not have to wait until the summer to meet his family once again.
One Final Surprise
After hearing how excited Billy Ray was to reunite with his family that he had not seen for 16 years, NBC News, who had been following the story decided to arrange another exciting surprise for Billy Ray. The network invited Billy Ray, Sarah, and Billy to come and talk on their show about their experience.
On the show, they spoke about the overwhelming support from the community and the relationship that they maintained following the day Billy Ray returned the ring to Sarah. Little did Billy Ray know, his family was waiting for him backstage.
An Emotional Reunion
After speaking with Billy, the NBC reporter revealed the fact that his sister Robin was waiting backstage to reunite with her brother. He could not believe what he was hearing. The talk show host then continued to tell him that Robin was not alone. Joining Robin to the stage was Billy Ray’s brother Edwin and his two other sisters, Nellie and EJ.
Billy Ray fought to hold back tears as his siblings walked on stage. He gave each of them a warm embrace and was left searching for the right words to express his happiness. “This is a really big surprise, I’m in shock,” he managed to say.
Uncle Billy Ray
While on the show, Billy Ray’s sister, Nellie spoke about how happy she was to hear that Robin had found their brother. She said, “We had been wondering for years, where is he at? Is he alive?” Robin added to the sentiment, with tears streaming down her face, that “it means the world” to have her big brother back in her life.
Not only did Billy Ray get to reunite with his loving siblings, but it turned out that he was also an Uncle and had many nieces and nephews that were looking forward to meeting him. Edwin spoke about his 14-year-old son that was waiting anxiously to meet his Uncle.
Happy to Have His Family Back
Billy Ray could not stop smiling throughout the segment. He sat with his arm around Robin, overwhelmed with the fact that his family was sitting there with him. He said, “I never would have thought this. This is a total shock.” This was the first time he was seeing them in over a decade.
Thanks to just one act of kindness and honesty, Billy now had a whole new life. He was now living off the streets and reunited with the family that welcomed him back into their lives with open arms. Despite reuniting on NBC, Billy Ray and his family still plan on having their summer reunion.
Grateful for Everything
Billy is hugely grateful to everyone who supported him. “I want to thank all the people that helped me out I want them to see where all their efforts, blessing and kindness is going.” “Overall, it just makes me feel good,” Darling said of the generosity Billy has received.
“A lot of people came together to change this person’s life when he is someone who really deserves that,” Darling said. “He definitely seems like his spirit has been rejuvenated. He has the chance to express himself more, you know to buy a new car and buy new clothes.” Sarah’s husband Bill added, “He’s just a solid guy, and you can tell he’s probably going to make it out alright.”
Billy Ray and his sisters and brothers now speak almost daily. His siblings were not the only family that Billy Ray gained from this experience. He also stayed in touch with Sarah Darling and Bill Krejci.
Since the event and after the donations came in, the young couple really got the chance to get to know Billy Ray better. The three of them meet up every so often and are mutually happy to continue staying in touch.
Bill and Billy Ray have especially developed quite a strong bond. They took a liking to each other early on in their story and have since maintained what seems to be a life long friendship. The pair share a passion for sports and often attend hockey and baseball games together.
Speaking about their bond, Bill told the NBC host that he felt an instant connection with Billy Ray, even after the first time they met. Bill said, “I knew immediately that he was someone that was on the same wavelength as me, and I was looking forward to being able to go chat with him once in a while.”
Reflecting on Their Story
Once Sarah and Bill realized how well their fundraising page was going, Krejci could not wait to tell Harris about the flood of donations. When he met with Billy to tell him the good news, Bill accompanied Harris to make some repairs on his bike.
During their outing, the two sat for much longer than expected and really got to know each other better. They took the opportunity to reflect on how positive the whole experience has been as the story continued to spread across the nation.
Why the Ring Was So Important
Bill relayed this meeting, saying, “We talked about a lot of things related to my family’s ring and the many donations. We talked about one day in the future the ring may one day be passed down to my daughter.”
Billy Ray now understands why this ring was so important to Sarah and Billy. It was not only an expensive ring to them but a family heirloom that they plan on passing on for many generations to come.
Good Luck Charm
Krejci and Darling also joke that Billy Ray is a good luck charm for the Kansas City baseball team, the Kansas City Royals. They have taken Harris to six Royals games, and every single time that Billy Ray has been in the stands, the team had won their game.
Harris even joined his friends for a game in celebration of Krejci’s birthday. We are so happy to hear that they were able to maintain such a rare and genuine bond.
Passing Down the Message
Since they met Sarah and Bill have built a family of their own. They now have two beautiful children, first a girl and more recently, a little boy. After her daughter and first child was born, Sarah spoke about looking forward to introducing her to Harris and explaining the role he played in her life.
“I’ve talked to other mothers about this,” Darling said. “It gives other moms a real tangible story of really teaching kind of the difference between what’s wrong and what’s right.” It seems so much more has come from Billy Ray’s good deed than what they initially realized. His act of kindness now helps spread life long lessons.
Harris Feels Human Now
Harris has told Krejci that he has finally found a place to stay where he is “safe and sound.” After years living on the street, with no family and no roof over his head, only one act of kindness has turned his life around more than he ever thought possible.
When reflecting on this, Harris says, “When I think of the past, I think, thank God that it’s over.” After quite some time feeling lesser than those around him, Harris says that thanks to all the generous donations and the kind outreach of Sarah and Bill, he is finally able to “feel human now.”
He Did Not Think It Would Be Possible
When the fundraiser first started to take off, Billy Ray just assumed it was too good to be true. “I was almost scared to look at it then. I didn’t want to get my hopes up too high,” he says. When the money did eventually come in, Billy Ray was understandably overwhelmed.
The most surprising part of this whole experience was finally getting back in touch with his family. “I didn’t think it was going to happen in my lifetime, being 50-something years old and being out of touch that long, you just figure you ain’t gonna get in touch.”
Setting New Goals
Harris also speaks about “doing a lot of work” on himself. This opportunity gave him a whole new perspective in life. He was lucky enough to be given a second chance and plans on doing the best he can with that blessing.
Billy Ray is making strides to spend wisely and is making a genuine effort to keep himself in a good place and off the streets. The support of his family and new friends are keeping him in check, and he is setting goals for himself that he never saw himself doing before.
New Mode of Transportation
As we mentioned, Billy Ray made the wise decision to consult a lawyer with his newfound fortune. The lawyer gave Harris the tools to manage his money and make smart purchasing choices.
Billy Ray first bought himself a black Volkswagen Beetle that he now proudly uses instead of his bike to get around. “It’s a ’98 Volkswagon, which I kinda had pimped out a little bit,” Billy Ray proudly said about his new car. “It’s just an eye-catcher, you know?”
Showing Off His Ride
In addition to documenting the family reunion, NBC News also wanted to capture the moment where Billy Ray got to show off his new ride to his good friend Bill.
In the video, Bill is shown sitting in the passenger seat of Billy Ray’s new car. He looks up at the camera and jokes, “I’ve heard he doesn’t know how to drive…So we’ll see.” Billy Ray laughs as he adjusts the radio and exclaims, “Liars!”
Harris Wants to Be His Own Boss
This whole experience has inspired Billy Ray to start thinking big. After beginning his personal projects on his new home, he came up with the idea of starting a business of his own.
“I’m thinking about getting a pick-up, a paint gun, two ladders, and some other paint equipment and doing my own paint,” he told NBC news. This goes to show just how much his spirit has lifted from this whole experience.
Adjusting to His Life
Although he is thinking about starting his new business, Harris says one of the hardest parts of this experience has been getting out of the day-to-day frame of mind and learning to think in the long term.
Billy elaborated on this notion saying, “I’m still in the right-here-right-now mode. You know, that’s one thing I have never been able to get out of. Good luck/bad luck. It’s like, I’m right here, right now. Whatever happens, happens.”
Making Ends Meet
For years, Billy Ray used to spend his days asking for change at the Kansas City Country Club Plaza. He kept a regular schedule from noon to four and again from seven to ten. Being homeless, opportunities for real work were slim to none, yet he found stability and peace of mind through his daily panhandling.
“At the very worst, I’m going to eat today, and I’m going to buy whatever I want to eat. And that was fine with me,” he says when reflecting on days spent on the streets. Today, Harris is making ends meet by working jobs as a sound engineer.
Tables Have Turned
Billy still visits the Plaza on occasion, but this time he goes there not to beg for spare change but to do some shopping. That being said, he has not forgotten the fact that he used to be one of the many homeless who still sit there begging for change.
Harris makes sure to give spare change when he can. “I still drive through the Plaza, and basically see ’em. I actually stop and give them money now, believe it or not!” he says.