It’s a warm summer evening in Barnesville, Georgia, but peaceful it isn’t. In fact, Fred Barley is about to be arrested for trespassing – that is, until the officers reprimanding him learn the astonishing truth behind his situation.
A suspected trespassing was reported at the campus of Barnesville’s Gordon State College campus in early July 2016. The alleged perpetrator had pitched a tent on campus grounds. And so when the police arrived, they demanded that the person come out of their tent with their hands raised.
When 19-year-old Fred Barley emerged from the tent, however, the officers soon realized that all was not as it seemed. Because as they listened to the teenager’s story, their perspectives completely changed.
Barley hails from Conyers, a city on the other side of Georgia in Rockdale County. It’s a full hour’s drive between there and Barnesville, but it had taken Barley much longer to reach his destination.
A second-year student at Gordon State College, Barley might just be one of the most determined young people you’re likely to come across. He’s majoring in biology and eventually wants to go on to study medicine and become a doctor.
To get that far, however, he has to first make it through college. Part of that process involves registering for his classes for second year, so he had to travel all the way from Conyers to Barnesville.
Again, that might not sound like such a monumental feat – after all, it’s only around 50 miles between the two cities. Unfortunately for Barley, however, his only available mode of transport was a child’s bicycle.
So inevitably, that one-hour drive turned into a six-hour cycle astride his little brother’s bike. And in the extreme summer heat of the American south, the journey seems all the more impressive.
Incredibly, Barley carried all his worldly possessions with him, which he was able to do using just two duffel bags. He’d taken two gallons of water to keep himself hydrated, but the only food he had on his person was a box of cereal.
Once he’d made the perilous journey, however, Barley needed somewhere to stay. Gordon State College dorms don’t open until August, which meant he had to improvise.
He pitched his tent among bushes on the campus, with a view to living there for the three or so weeks until dorms opened. He explained to the police officers that he thought it would be safer than pitching his tent back home in Conyers.
So, when the cops arrived after he was reported for trespassing, Barley probably thought that his plan had failed. But rather than arresting him, the officers decided to give him the benefit of the doubt and listen to his story.
Consequently, once they realized what was going on, the officers were so impressed by Barley’s determination that they wanted to help the young man out. One of the cops told him, “I definitely applaud you for doing this. We can’t allow you to stay here, but I have somewhere you can stay.”
And with that, Barley suddenly had a proper roof over his head as the generous officers, touched by his story, paid for him to stay a couple of nights in a nearby motel while he found his feet. However, this was just the beginning of a change in fortunes for Barley.
Because one of the officers’ wives decided to post his inspiring story on Facebook – and the response from the community was overwhelming. Hundreds of generous people pledged their support to Barley, including a local woman named Casey Blaney.
Between them, Blaney and the motel’s owner covered the cost of Barley’s accommodation until he was able to move into the college’s dorms. Meanwhile, staff at Gordon State agreed that he could move in early so that he wouldn’t have to stay in the motel for long.
To make the most of the outpouring of support online, Blaney set up a GoFundMe page, titled Success for Fred, to help raise more money to support Barley through college. In just eight days, the page smashed its $150,000 goal and raised almost $185,000, with donations pouring in from more than 5,700 people.
But the outpouring of goodwill for the young man didn’t stop there. After hearing about Barley’s amazing story, local pizzeria owner Debbie Adamson decided to give him a job so he’d be able to pay his way through college. She told a local news station, “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.”
Meanwhile, not all donations have been financial. Barley has received school supplies, clothing and a brand new bicycle. But there’s one gift that has stood out for the 19-year-old. He explained, “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.”
Barley’s story is more than just an inspiring tale of a community coming together to help someone in need – it’s also a vital lesson to never judge a book by its cover. Barley may have been trespassing that night, but his inspiring story certainly pitched a tent in the hearts of the people of Barnesville.