By Hope Jensen, WSB-TV
BARNESVILLE, Ga. – At just 19 years old, Fred Barley has proven he knows what he wants out of life and he’ll do anything to make it happen.
Officers found the teen sleeping in a tent over the weekend outside a Georgia college. Instead of giving him a ticket for trespassing, the officers listened to his story – and that’s where this amazing story begins.’
Barley, a homeless college student, told the officers he had ridden his little brother’s bike six hours from Conyers to Barnesville to register for classes for his second semester of college. He had two duffel bags carrying all he owned and 2 gallons of water as he rode through the heat of a Georgia summer.
Problem is, the Gordon State College campus dorms don’t open until August, so Barley pitched a tent in some bushes on campus and prepared to spend the next few weeks there, with nothing more than a box of cereal to eat.
Barley spent the day job-searching and had just returned to his tent Saturday night when officers responded to a report of someone sleeping in a tent on campus. They told Barley to come out with his hands up, but the officers quickly realized that something wasn’t right. They sat down with Barley, who told them his story.
The biology major, who dreams of going to medical school one day, told the officers he thought the bushes on campus would be a much safer place for him to sleep than staying in his tent in Conyers.
“He was so understanding and he said, ‘I definitely I applaud you for doing this. We can’t allow you to stay here, but I have somewhere you can stay,’” Barley told Channel 2 Action News.
Without a second thought, the officers took him to a local motel and paid for his next two nights.
“The stuff that’s happening with police officers, I am black and he didn’t care what color I was. He just helped me, and that meant a lot,” Barley said.
That could be the end of this story, but it was only just the beginning.
The officer’s wife posted the story on a Barnesville community Facebook page and hundreds of people — including Casey Blaney — stepped up to help.
“I was shocked by how much support people will give from Lamar County and counties all over and even people from across the country that I’ve never met just wanted to help so much in my life. I was just so shocked and grateful,” Barley said.
Blaney and the motel owner paid for him to stay in his room until he can get into the dorms, which are allowing him to move in early — on Monday. A local pizzeria, DB’s Pizzeria, hired him on as a dishwasher.
Owner Debbie Adamson said she saw his story on Facebook and knew immediately that she wanted to help.
“I created a position for him before he walked in my door. I didn’t know his name. I didn’t know the color of his skin. I didn’t care. I’ve been there so I guess I had a soft spot for anyone who is that determined to succeed in life,” she said.
Adamson, who’s been through several struggles in her life as well, says they plan to keep him employed and eventually teach him to cook the pizza, while working around his school schedule.
“The most shocking part is so many people coming to help a stranger, because honestly in today’s society this sounds like a scam,” Barley said about his story.
People have donated clothes, school supplies, shoes, a new bike and they are working to get him a car. People have also stepped up to take care of his dental and medical needs. Blaney created a Facebook page called Success For Fred and also started a GoFundMe page that’s raised nearly $9,000 in two days.
But Barley says despite all of that, for which he is extremely grateful, it’s the people that mean the most.
“Some of the gifts aren’t as important as the friends I’ve made. More important than everything — the clothes, the shoes — the relationships mean so much more to me,” he said.
One of those connections is Amber Shoemake, who lost her son Leland to a rare brain infection last year. She says she felt an instant need to help Fred.
“It’s sad because we would do anything to have our child with us, and for him to just be out there with no family, it completely broke my heart,” she said.
Barley plans to attend church with Shoemake and her family on Sunday.
He says God has been the driving force that keeps him going.
“The Bible says, ‘You can do all things through Christ who strengthens me,’ so I know I can,” he said. “My legs are working. Millions of people walk and bike to work every day. I definitely think I can bike a couple hours to get to my future.”
Thursday, Barley recorded a video message to thank everyone who’s helped him.