He was having a rough couple of days. He was hungry, tired, and he couldn't focus. He just wanted to sleep, but he knew slacking off at school wasn't a good option. When the janitor told him to come with her, he followed her to a hidden door behind the cafeteria. He had known that she brought other students here, but he had no clue what was inside. The door was opened and he couldn't believe his eyes.
The janitor's name was Carolyn Collins and she works at Tucker High School, the only public school in Tucker, Georgia. Carolyn is an amazing janitor. She always made sure the classrooms, hallways, and the other facilities at the school were nice and tidy. She always got along with the teachers and staff, and the students who she came into contact with her all liked her, as well. The school had a dark secret, though, and she was about to find out what it was.
Carolyn was given an early morning shift one day in 2014. It was going to be a little while before school started, so she figured the school was going to be quiet and empty. She was a bit confused when another employee came up to her and asked her to take care of a few students. They were dropped off early and had nothing to do. Kids don't want to be at school earlier than they have to, so Carolyn decided to find out more.
Carolyn attempted to find out why the children were there so early, but most of them didn't want to talk to her. But that didn't stop her. Carolyn continued talking to a pair of siblings. It was obvious that they wanted to say something, but they felt ashamed. They began to trust Carolyn's friendly and caring demeanor, so they told her the truth. The kids were homeless and living out of a car, and they hadn't had a proper meal in a few days. Immediately, Carolyn knew she had to help.
Carolyn managed to get some food for the children she was asked to care for that day. Once she talked to the children, Carolyn was informed that the siblings weren't the only ones in the school that were facing such sad conditions. “Some of them sleeping in cars, some in hotels. They just want to learn," said Carolyn. You may be thinking that this particular school has some sort of problem, but the truth is a bit more unreal.
Unfortunately, teenage homelessness is a huge problem in the state of Georgia. In 2017, the state Department of Community Affairs released a report that stated that about 23 percent of homeless people are under 18 years of age. Not having a stable place to call home can deeply affect a child's overall health, mental health, and their academic performance. It was quite obvious that Carolyn wanted to do something to help, because for her, this was personal.
Many years ago, Carolyn's son was murdered during a home invasion. As soon as she heard about all of the hungry and homeless teens at her school, her maternal instincts kicked in. Carolyn knew how vulnerable these kids were to crime and violence, so she wanted to do something to prevent it from happening. “I’m just trying to stop our young boys from stealing and killing,” she said. What could she do, though?
Carolyn figured she could bring a few things from home to help the kids. It wasn't long before she realized that it wouldn't be enough. The supplies the kids needed was far more than what she was capable of bringing everyday. She knew that she needed a place to store the things she brought, as well as the things other teachers and staffed wanted to donate. Luckily, she found the perfect place.
Carolyn knew of a cleaning supply closet near the cafeteria, but there wasn't much in it and there was a lot of space. Little by little, Carolyn began to bring in stuff for the students: clothes, shoes, canned food, and personal hygiene products. Pretty much anything that would make their lives a little easier. She named it the "Care Closet." There were other people contributing, but most of it was from her own pocket. That's not what mattered to her, though.
Carolyn has been running the Care Closet for almost four years now, and she figures she's helped about 20 to 20 teens every year. Carolyn knows there more kids in need out there. “A lot of kids don’t say anything. I tell the teachers a lot, ‘If you see a child with their head down, the same clothes on day after day, let me know,'" said Carolyn. Carolyn's amazing efforts have been recognized.
A lot of the kids at Tucker High School know who Carolyn is now, and what she does for them. Many of the teens that Carolyn has helped have begun to call her names, like "Auntie Carolyn." “She’s a caretaker, she’s a giver, she’s everything you could ever ask for,” explained one student. It wasn't long before people outside of school were finding about her acts of kindness.
Atlanta-based TV station 11Alive shared Carolyn's story in December of 2017, and they posted a clip of it on their Facebook page. A lot of people must have been touched by her story because it was seen over 1.6 million times. People couldn't believe the compassion that Carolyn showed these children. She had gone above and beyond her duties and she was about to be rewarded for her unbelievable acts of kindness.
La Detra White is an entrepreneur and local author. She read Carolyn's story on Facebook and decided to give her a little Christmas present. White, along with a group of people, visited Carolyn to give her some money and items for the Care Closet, totaling $1,300. Carolyn couldn't have been more grateful. “I’m going to cry my eyelashes out,” she said jokingly. But that wasn't the end of Carolyn's fortune.
Carolyn's story continued to make its way around the country and eventually, thanks to Steve Harvey, it made national news. A couple of Tucker High School students were interviewed by Harvey's team and they couldn't stop raving about her kindness. Carolyn was filmed as she went on a $5,000 shopping spree for the Care Closet, thanks to Sam's Club. Carolyn was invited onto the Steve Harvey show where she was awarded the biggest gift of all.
Considering how much Carolyn did for other people, Harvey wanted to give her more than just a thank you. He decided to gift Carolyn another $15,000 shopping spree at Sam's Club, this time she was to spend the money on herself. Carolyn couldn't help but cry, but her biggest reward was helping the children. “They can come to me for anything. If I have it, I’m going to give it to them," she explained to Steve Harvey.