Ind. teen whose long walk for job draws donations

March 4, 2013 - 10:29 PM
Exchange-Change Of Fortune

In a photo made from video, 18-year-old Jhaqueil Reagan, 18, poses for a photo at Papa Roux in Indianapolis, Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. When offered a job at the Cajun restaurant, Reagan figured his main responsibilities would involve preparing food, serving tables and cleaning up. Instead, he has spent much of his time providing interviews to newspaper and TV reporters – from all over the country. (AP Photo/Indianapolis Star, Bill McCleery) NO SALES

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Donations have been pouring in since a story went viral online about an Indianapolis teenager who was walking 10 miles to a job interview during an ice storm when he was picked up by a restaurant owner who offered him a job.

Now, the pair is starting a foundation to help other job hunters.

Jhaqueil Reagan, 18, was walking to a job interview at a thrift store two weeks ago when he cut through the parking lot of Cajun restaurant Papa Roux. He asked the restaurant's owner, Art Bouvier, how much farther he had to go. Bouvier told him the store was about 6 or 7 miles down the road.

"I assumed he was going to get on the bus or something," Bouvier recalled Monday.

But Reagan couldn't afford bus fare, so he kept walking.

Bouvier and his wife encountered the teenager about 20 minutes later while they were driving to run an errand. Bouvier offered Reagan a ride and found out he'd planned on walking the whole way.

"I decided I'd hire him," Bouvier said. "If you'd do all that to see if you could get a job, you'd do it to keep your job."

He also said Reagan told him he'd dropped out of high school after his mother died a couple years ago to help take care of his younger siblings.

Bouvier later posted the story on his Facebook page and, to his surprise, it quickly spread. Soon, he and Reagan were asked to appear on national television shows including Good Morning America and Fox and Friends.

"I just put on Facebook the story of my encounter with Jhaqueil," Bouvier said. "I'm no stranger to Facebook. I've done feel-good stories ... and they never get like this. But this story had gotten nearly 500 likes within 5 minutes."

Since then, donations have been coming in to Papa Roux by mail.

Reagan, who got his GED in 2011, is now set up with a job and his own apartment, so he and Bouvier decided to use the $2,000 they've collected in donations to start a foundation.

"It's fantastic," Reagan said. "This foundation that we're setting up, it's not just going to benefit me or Papa Roux. It's also going to benefit underprivileged teens who are looking for jobs."

Reagan and Bouvier are currently working on gaining official nonprofit status for the foundation. Donations will go toward helping unemployed people with transportation, clothing and resume building for their job hunt.

"It's a very dream-big scenario," Bouvier said.

Reagan is in his second week of work at Papa Roux and is enjoying his new job.

"I like meeting new people every day and taking care of customers," Reagan said. "When I smile at a customer and they smile back, I feel like I'm doing people a service. It's great, I love it."