Homeless man who returned ring looks toward future - WTVM.com-Columbus, GA News Weather & Sports

More than $175K raised for homeless man who returned ring

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KANSAS CITY, MO (KCTV) -

The homeless man who gained international attention for his good deed is now looking toward the future and seeing how his act is teaching others.

And generous donors have poured more than $175,000 in a trust fund to benefit Billy Ray Harris. But he hasn't received the money yet so he's still at his usual panhandling spot on the Country Club Plaza.

On Feb. 8, KCTV5 reported how Sarah Darling had given her spare change to Harris after she saw him during a visit to the Plaza. While giving him money, she accidentally dumped her engagement ring into his tin can.

When she noticed the next day that she had her wedding ring but not her engagement ring, she panicked. She rushed to the Plaza, but Harris was not there. She returned the next day and found him.

When she asked, he returned the ring to her.

Twenty days ago, the husband of the woman who got her ring back set up a fund for Harris on the website Giveforward.com.

With 70 days left, it's up to $178,000. Details are still being worked out on giving the money to Harris. Until then, you can find him at his usual spot in front of the Cinemark movie theater on the Plaza.

"I've got to survive until then," he said.

But what the series of stories about his good deed has given him is more valuable than money - they've given him respect.

"People are actually beginning to see and hear that I'm not as stupid or dumb as they thought and that makes me feel good," he said. "Now they look at me with a little more respect."

Donations on the website have ranged from $5 to $1,000 from around the globe, each with enthusiastic words of support.

But a windfall after a life like Harris' can be problematic.

"With a lot of changes comes a lot of challenges, but if you've got someone to walk that journey with you, it's a lot easier," said Gail Byers with Community LINC. "It's scary if he does not have someone who is guiding him."

Byers is a counselor at Community LINC, a charity that gives homeless people apartments and guidance, equipping them for a transition.

"When you have been in the dark for so long and something like this happens, it's like a light bulb came on," she said. "It's like, ‘I am worthy. I can give to somebody else.'"

But Byers is cautiously optimistic about Harris, in part because of another man.

"There's no doubt in my mind this is just the beginning of the goodness," Bill Krejci said.

Krejci is not just the fund sponsor, but is part of Harris' support team.

"We knew he'd need an ID, so yesterday we went down to the DMV to get him an ID," he said.

Krejci said he's helping with the basics but is giving Harris the freedom he so values.

A couple Harris does some work for offered him a basement apartment when the snow storm arrived.

"You cannot believe how good it feels to me right now to be able to stick my own key in the door and open the door and go in and lock it when I leave," Harris said. "That is a great feeling. And a lot of people take that for granted."

And the attention has brought Harris something else - he now has offers for speaking engagements and possibly full-time work as a speaker, which is not far off from his granddad's job as a preacher.

"Everybody always says, ‘God has a plan for you.' I've been trying to figure that out. What's the plan? I was pretty sure it wasn't to be a preacher. But evidently, you don't have to be a preacher to get the point across, so I'm thinking this whole thing is bigger than me. It's not about me. It's not about the money. It's about the good Lord using me as a vessel. He's like, ‘Here, I want you to spread this message because a lot of people need their eyes opened about how we perceive each other,'" Harris said. "It's more or less a natural fit because I used to stand up in church when I was 9 years old and give sermons. I stood on a step stool behind the pulpit and gave sermons."

A friend has offered up the services of a financial planner who gives his cut to charity, and a lawyer has offered to set up a trust pro-bono.

"One of the nice things about it being a 90-day campaign is that there's all this time to really let things fall into place, think things through," Harris said.

He is still considering his options and not counting his chickens before they're hatched.

Although he does imagine spending the money some day and how weird that might be.

"I'll probably be standing around here one day going to shop at Urban Outfitters or something and somebody will walk up and hand me a dollar," he said with a laugh. "They're so used to seeing me out here doing this."

While he plans to stay in Kansas City, he said he may visit family in Texas.

"Get a car, go down to Texas and get my sister. She has a little thrift store she's running. It's too small. I'd get her a bigger building," he said.

As of Thursday, there are 70 days left to donate to the GiveForward campaign to help Harris. Go to giveforward.com/billyray to contribute.

Click here to read a blog from a man who knows Harris about what he has learned from Harris' selfless act.

Click here to learn more about Community LINC.

KCTV5's DeAnn Smith contributed to this report.

Copyright 2013 KCTV (Meredith Corp.)  All rights reserved.

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