“I wanted to do it on my own.”
Even though 19-year-old Fred Barley was homeless and trying to go to school 60 miles from where he lived, he refused to accept handouts. Well, now it looks like he doesn’t have a choice.
The biology major gained national news when people found out that he had rode his brothers 20″ bike 60 miles in a hot Georgia summer just to register for classes. Since he’s homeless he had to pack all his clothes in two duffel bags, a tent, and two gallons of water to keep him hydrated along the highways.
Barley showed up before the semester actually started so that he could try and secure a job, the only problem was that his dorm room wouldn’t be available until school started. This meant he was going to pitch a tent outside of the dorms to sleep in until the rest came.
Security found him and learned of his story and decided to share it with the world–now the world has raised $184,266 for the biology major.
“I just want to say thank you to everyone who has helped me,” he tells PEOPLE. “I want to make you all proud.”
Lately he’s been using his story to inspire others, traveling around talking to kids about all he’s been through.
“Don’t give up,” he says. “Even when it seems like the world is against you, keep striving, keep believing in God. God has always been my rock and if he’s my rock, he can be anyone’s rock. Let Him handle it and things will work out in your favor.”
“It was hot and my legs burned,” Barley said of his bike ride “six hours and some change. There were several times I wanted to stop, but then I would realize how far I’d come and just wanted to keep going.” .
“I was afraid of going to jail,” Barley said of hearing officers knock on his tent before asking him to come out with his hands up. The cops knew right away what kind of kid they were dealing with.
“I’ve always been a pretty good judge of character and he just came across as a genuine, good kid,” Carreker tells PEOPLE. “Conyers to Barnesville, if traffic is okay, is an hour and 20-minute drive in a vehicle. The fact that he had ridden that distance on a 20-inch bike … was beyond my comprehension. It hit me hard that he was that determined.”
The officers didn’t want him sleeping on campus in a tent but they didn’t want to just kick him out so they came up with another idea. They payed for Barley to stay at a nearby hotel for the next two nights and Carreker’s wife posted the story on Facebook and the rest is history.
First a military wife and mother of three, Casey Blaney, read the story and went to the hotel to see how she could help.
“I said to him, ‘I just need to know if what I read was true,’ ” she tells PEOPLE. “He smiled and said, ‘Yes, ma’am.’ I’ve never seen a more positive person in all my life.”
Continuing his desire to make it on his own Barley initially turned down Blaney’s offers for help but eventually told her that really what he wanted was a job.
“He actually refused help,” she says. “He was just extremely humble and grateful and insistent that he was fine. I was smitten at that point.”
She finally got him to let her pay for his hotel until he could move into the dorms and then she posted about him on her Facebook page.
She created a GoFundMe account with the hopes of raising $1,000 to help purchase a few essentials that Barley didn’t have. Then the media stepped in and blew that thousand dollar goal out of the water.
Not too long after Barley got a job as a dishwasher and pizza maker at a local restaurant.
“Learning how to flip pizzas is hard, but it’s fun,” Barley says with a laugh, referring to the traditional method of tossing pizza dough into the air with a just-right twist of the wrist to create a smooth circle. “I was so excited. Having a job, period, was a blessing. I had been searching for a job for days.”
Debra Adamson owns the pizzaria and said it was an easy choice to hire Barley.
“The fact that he was driven to ride the 50 or 60 miles from Conyers to get here before all the other college students got into the dorms and got jobs shows drive and determination,” she tells PEOPLE. “Because of my particular path and how I grew up I knew it was genuine. That’s why I hired him sight unseen.”
“Fred is one of the most genuine young men I’ve met in a long time and I don’t say that lightly. He spends a lot of time in tears because of the things people have given him and done for him,” she says. “I want my restaurant to be a kind of safe haven for him, where he can come to work and have three or four hours of not having to worry about what’s going on outside.”
Before sleeping in the college parking lot Barley actually spent a month sleeping in a tent behind his local Church. He kept his reasons for being homeless private with the desire to respect and protect his family but assured the reporters that everything is okay, he’s just homeless.
Barley hopes to get his degree and move on to med school where he can study psychiatry and one day open his own practice. All of this was inspired by a childhood friend of Barley’s who battled mental issues and was bullied.
“The day I open up a psychiatric practice, I want to make sure [patients] are treated like they should be – like a human being,” he says.
When people caught wind of his determination, the job offers started flooding in and some were pretty decent money, especially for a college kid. As you might have guessed Barley wasn’t too interested though as he’d already made a commitment.
“‘I’m gonna be loyal to Miss Debbie. She was the first one to offer me a job when I had nothing,” he says.