This Kind Stranger Helped a Paralyzed Teen Finish High School (And More)

Despite a tragic accident, Collin Smith was determined to succeed at school. He got an extra push when Ernest Greene, a retiree and total stranger, decided to step in and help.

everyday heroes collin smith
Evan Kafka for Reader’s Digest

After a car crash left 14-year-old Collin Smith paralyzed, doctors told him he had a 20 percent chance of finishing high school. The opportunity to attend college seemed even slimmer. Yet eight years later, Collin earned a bachelor of arts degree in communications from High Point University. Collin had achieved the nearly impossible—with the help of a benevolent man five decades his senior. Dial back to 2005.

Ernest Greene, a retiree, and his wife, Catherine, attended Asheboro Baptist Church, the same church attended by Collin and his parents, Janet and Michael, in Asheboro, North Carolina. The families were not acquainted—the Greenes had moved to the area just nine months earlier. But when Ernest heard about Collin’s accident and the fact that his parents would not be able to care full-time for their son, Ernest says, he felt a calling. “The Lord was leading me to help,” he says. He had time to spare.

Ernest approached Collin’s parents with the idea that he look after the boy while they were at work. The Smiths gratefully accepted. Collin, now 23, says it was hard for him to understand then “how someone I didn’t know would drop everything to help me.”

Ernest sought training to care for Collin and then began arriving at the Smiths’ home early on weekday mornings. He would help Collin get out of bed, wash, and dress. He would help him have breakfast. Then he’d drive Collin to school. And at 3 p.m., every day, Ernest would drive back to pick him up. Then, while the two waited for one of Collin’s parents to get home, “we played a lot of Monopoly,” says Ernest with a laugh. At first, the age difference was a challenge—one liked rap, the other didn’t. But they learned to compromise. “Older folks are just older versions of you,” says Collin. “Same people, great stories.”

Some days were better than others. “He can’t do for himself, so he can be demanding,” says Ernest. But he attests that Collin’s strong will got him through tough times.

Collin graduated from high school with the rest of his class and was accepted to nearby High Point. Ernest accompanied him to every class. “The first year was interesting,” Ernest recalls. “Collin didn’t want to stick out.” Ernest, on the other hand, says he took full advantage of the opportunity, jotting down notes and often commenting in class.

On graduation day, Ernest received an honorary degree in humanities.

“I was floored,” he says.

Collin wasn’t surprised. “Ernest is a godly example of the way a man should live—calm, humble,” he says.

Today, Collin works as an assistant basketball coach at High Point and gets daily support from a certified nursing assistant, while Ernest spends most of his time with his family. The two intergenerational friends don’t see as much of each other. But “Collin and I will always have a relationship,” says Ernest. Collin agrees. “We were together 14 to 16 hours a day,” he says. “You get close to somebody.”

Originally Published in Reader's Digest

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