*Featured image contains photo by Andrea Piacquadio
Briggs VanNess wasn’t always a hero. In fact, if you took a look at his rap sheet — 32 counts of aggravated auto theft — you’d probably say he was the villain.
But sometimes, we have to take a turn on the dark side before we can finally walk in the light.
Serendipity Strikes in a Denny’s Restaurant
Briggs was driving overnight from California to Colorado when he decided to pull into a Denny’s in Salt Lake City, Utah for an early-bird breakfast.
He had one simple, yet odd, request: he asked for a waitress who was a single mom.
As luck (or fate) would have it, Crystal happened to be working that morning. A single mom of a little boy, she was living in a homeless shelter, walking four miles in the snow and cold to work, and desperately trying to make ends meet.
Briggs had no idea that the night before he showed up in her section, Crystal had prayed for a miracle. And God, or the universe, or whatever you believe in, was about to deliver.
How an Ex-con Became a Hero to a Struggling Waitress
For two hours, Briggs sat quietly, chatting on and off with Crystal and watching the seven other families in the restaurant. Estranged from his mother and five siblings, he longed for what they had: each other.
When he finally got up to pay his $21.34 bill, he made a spur-of-the-moment decision to tack on a hefty tip for Crystal worth $1500. However, not only did he pay his own tab, he also paid the bills of the other diners as well.
“Something in my gut was telling me to do it,” Briggs told Men’s Health. “I wanted to tip Crystal enough for her to get a car. As for the others, I figured why not? I don’t need much. I had the money, so what was that little chunk of change to me?”
Except it wasn’t a “little chunk of change” — in total, Briggs covered more than $700 in meals.
Before anyone had the chance to thank him or ask him his name, Briggs quietly vanished out the door. And while he may have been gone he certainly wasn’t forgotten. What he didn’t know was that the hostess of Denny’s was so moved by his act of kindness that she snapped a photo and shared his story on her personal social media.
A Facebook Post Goes Viral and an Anonymous Angel Is Found
A year and a half later, that small post written by the unnamed hostess found its way onto Love What Matters Facebook page. Within hours, it went viral with over 380,000 likes and nearly 180,000 shares.
In the post addressed to the Denny’s “angel,” the hostess shared what prompted Briggs’ big payout, writing: “I asked, ‘Why did you do that?’ You simply said, ‘Family is everything, I’ve lost all mine.’”
She also went on to share just how life-changing his generous tip was for Crystal. And while the waitress didn’t use it to buy a car, she used it for something even more invaluable: a home for her and her son.
“Your bill was $21.34 and you left her a $1,500 tip, because of you she gets her new place next week, because of you 7 families ate for free.”
Eventually, thanks to the popularity of the post, Briggs was found. He received countless messages from people all over the world, praising him for his act of kindness.
“It’s been awesome to hear so many people say good things considering I was terrible for so many years.”
The Path That Led Him Here
In an interview with Men’s Health, Briggs opened up about his difficult childhood. Many of his childhood years were spent homeless despite his single mother working multiple jobs. Not only did she battle to put food on the table and keep a roof over his and his five siblings’ heads but she also battled stomach and brain cancer.
By the time he was 16, Briggs dropped out of high school and straight into a life of crime, stealing cars, trucks, dirt bikes, and four-wheelers. His criminal activities eventually caught up with him and just before his 18th birthday, he was arrested.
Briggs spent the next few years in and out of jail.
After being released, he started up a small business, bought a house and a truck, and met a girl. But it was short-lived. He lost everything, including his family who no longer wanted any contact with him. It was the catalyst he needed to change his life.
Paying It Forward
Briggs got serious about living the kind of life his mom raised him to live. One that includes being kind and helping others.
“[After] many years of fighting my demons, I finally found the light,” Briggs said.
He worked hard, moved to California, acquired a small trucking company, sold a smartphone app to Samsung, and relocated to Colorado.
It was during his move to Colorado that he met Crystal. And the rest, as they say, is history.
It turns out that he makes a habit of asking for single mothers in restaurants in honor of his mom.
“I admire people like Crystal — and my mom,” he said. “These are people who fight every day, and struggle every day, but they don’t ask for help or handouts. So if I see someone who I think deserves help, then I do what I can.”
Briggs didn’t plan on changing Crystal’s life that day. But call it fate, kismet, or an answered prayer, that’s exactly what he did.
Being the Light for Others
Not all of us can afford to tip our waitresses $1500. But we can all afford to be kind to others.
Briggs VanNess may have started out as a criminal but he is proof that, regardless of our circumstances, we all have the power to change our lives for good. And in embracing the light, we can also become the light for others who need it most.
“In a world of darkness, the smallest light can make an impact,” Briggs says. “Even if it’s completely pitch-black around you, you’re still shining a light.”