When we help out a stranger who’s really in need, we never expect or imagine they’ll ever repay us. It’s a truly selfless action, doing something for someone without expecting anything in return.
But ShelbyLynn Alexander, a real estate broker from Jacksonville, North Carolina, discovered that sometimes what comes around goes around—and our kindness gets repaid at the most unexpected moments. She shared her story on Facebook, where it went viral and inspired others.
It all started last January. ShelbyLynn was driving her truck when she passed a man holding a hand-written cardboard sign. He seemed like a typical homeless person, but the phrasing of his plea for help struck her:
“Need a little help. Will pay it forward.”
It made ShelbyLynn wonder if the man was homeless or just going through a rough patch. She recalled he was wearing “dingy clothes” that weren’t fit for the cold winter weather, and the few blankets he had were wrapped around his dog.
And while she typically would only give food instead of money, she couldn’t help but pull over and help the man out.
ShelbyLynn handed him three $20 bills, wrapped around her realtor business card—“in case he needed help finding another place to live.”
The man accepted the cash and the card, although ShelbyLynn remembered the “shamefulness in his eyes” as he took it.
She didn’t know if the man would ever “pay it forward,” as the sign said—but she hoped her donation would at least help him get back in the right direction.
“I said a prayer for him and drove away,” she wrote.
Months passed, but the encounter with the man stayed with her.
“I never caught his name, but I remembered his face. I remembered everything,” she wrote.
But then, in September, her realtor office received a call—and asked for ShelbyLynn by name. The man was hoping to look at one of the houses they had on the market.
ShelbyLynn assumed it was just another prospective real estate buyer. She arranged to meet with the caller in person. But when ShelbyLynn arrived at the appointment, she noticed something familiar:
“My eyes were first drawn to a plump dog hanging out of the window of a truck that seemed as happy as could be.”
It seemed to be the same dog who was wrapped in the blankets back in the winter. But could it be?
Then, her suspicious were confirmed. The man with the sign got out of the truck and she could just barely recognize him. He had completely changed his appearance.
“He was wearing a collared shirt, freshly-starched jeans, boots, and had a clean-shaven face.” ShelbyLynn was initially suspicious. “The first thought that crossed my mind was that he had scammed me by pretending to need money in those dingy clothes.”
“But I later found out that was not the case at all.”
ShelbyLynn realized the man didn’t scam her. He really had turned his life around—and he wanted to repay ShelbyLynn’s kindness. Nine months after their first interaction, he gave her $60 back, once again wrapped around her business card.
He told ShelbyLynn about the rough time he had been going through that led him to being on the street.
“He explained that his ex-wife had taken everything he owned, besides his dog, and had run off with another man.”
“At the time, he didn’t need a handout, just help.”
But in the months since, he had managed to get back on track—big time.
“As it turns out, he’s an engineer with a great new job, happy dog, new truck, and new life.”
He was doing so well that, true to his word, he decided to find a way to “pay it forward.”
It turns out, he was interested in ShelbyLynn’s real estate services. He had a friend who was looking to buy a new home, and remembering her business card, he decided to reach out and give her the sale.
“What I learned from tonight is that you never know what someone has going on in his or her life, and it can be so easy to judge from the outside looking in without knowing the circumstances.”