DOUGLASVILLE, Ga. -- The story of a local teen who performed a simple act of kindness touched thousands of people online, and now his community is taking a moment to recognize him.
Phil Powell is a senior at New Manchester High School in Douglas County, and was honored Tuesday night by the Board of Education for a touching gesture earlier this summer when he gave a homeless man the very shoes off his feet.
"We appreciate Phil for shining a positive light on New Manchester High School, the Douglas County School System, and Douglas County," school officials said in a statement. "We are proud that he is one of ours."
Powell told 11Alive’s Matt Pearl he was just doing what he thought was right. But to understand why Powell did what he did, it’s necessary to go back in time to when he was younger and living without a home.
"I was homeless from I think age 8 till age 18,” Powell said. “I'm 18 now and my last time being homeless was last year, right around my birthday."
His family has always instilled in him the value of a kind gesture, and he’s taken that to heart in the encounters he’s had throughout his life.
“I was turning 13, and there was this man at my church, and he didn't actually know it was my birthday, but I had complimented him on his shoes, and he said, 'Do you want them,'" he recalled. "Most people just don't understand, like, what something so little can mean to somebody else in their life."
Fast forward to this summer with Powell in a stable home, pink Converse shoes and his own income as a part-time greeter at Walmart. Less than a month into the job, the 18-year-old saw a guest whose path felt familiar.
"I looked at his appearance, and I realized he had no shoes, oversized shirt, oversized pants on, and his wife had holes in her socks, so I just knew, 'Something's not right,'" he said. "I know he needs shoes, so let me just be a blessing for somebody else."
Powell gave the man those pink Converses.
A customer saw and snapped a photo: the teen back on the clock, wearing on his feet just socks. That customer shared the story, and people were moved by his kindness.
“I have some people who come to Walmart and tell me, they've seen the man on the side of the road, they've seen the pink Converses on," he said.
Powell was already known at the school for his generosity, but now with the new school year in session, his kind act has earned him extra spotlight for what he did on summer vacation. He’ looking forward to taking the next steps into his future, hoping to join the Navy in the medical field to study allergies.
But even with the recognition, Powell has remained humble in representing his Jaguars, himself, and above all, his message: "My life is not the best. But at the end, I'm trying to make it the best. Whether I have something to give or not, if I see someone in need, I will always be willing to give."
(© 2016 WXIA)