Customers who come into the Waffle House recognize server Evoni Williams.
They have seen her on television, or read about her in newspapers, or seen the viral Facebook post of her random act of kindness, giving an older customer a hand — actually two. In the past two weeks, she has gotten a college scholarship, and the mayor in La Marque, Tex., even proclaimed March 8, 2018, to be “Evoni ‘Nini’ Williams Day.”
Williams, a soft-spoken 18-year-old from Texas City, has become a local celebrity in La Marque, a racially diverse town south of Houston. She is not sure how to process it all.
“I wasn’t really expecting none of this,” Williams said Thursday in a phone conversation. “Because I didn’t think anyone seen it. It was just little ol’ me going about the day.”
It all started with a Facebook post. On the morning of March 3, Laura Wolf was eating breakfast at a Waffle House in La Marque when she overheard an older man, who reminded her of her late father, tell Williams he had trouble with his hands.
The man, later identified as regular customer Adrien Charpentier, had an oxygen tank nearby and needed help cutting up his food. “Without hesitation,” Wolf wrote, Williams “took his plate and began cutting up his ham.” After some internal debate over whether to share the photo, Wolf posted the moment on her Facebook page.
As of Friday afternoon, the post has been shared more than 73,000 times.
“It touched me,” said Wolf, 46. “Because she’s so young. I have four kids who would’ve done the same thing, but you just don’t always see something like this.”
The following day, Williams’s Facebook notifications began to light up. Her friends saw Wolf’s post and tagged her in it. Williams had no idea that someone took a photo that morning. The diner was so busy that a line extended outside the door.
She said helping Charpentier was reflexive. She has been working at Waffle House since last June to save for college, and this, she figured, was just the right thing to do.
“I would want someone to help my grandmother or grandfather,” Williams said.
The post began to make its rounds in La Marque and eventually landed in front of the city’s mayor, Bobby Hocking, who said he “immediately felt in my spirit that I needed to something for her.”
Hocking decided to declare March 8 as Williams’s day, and he also received an email from Texas Southern University President Austin A. Lane, asking if the school could present Williams with a scholarship.
A few days later, Williams, surrounded by her mother, co-workers and more than a half-dozen television camera crews and reporters, broke down in tears as she received a check for $16,000 toward her college education and was given her own day by the mayor.
“It’s always refreshing in this day and age to see the younger generation helping the older generation,” said Hocking, 68. “Because our young generation is not always cast in the best light. It never gets old seeing young people help.”
Williams still works at Waffle House five days a week — she patiently answered questions for this interview between serving customers — and plans to do so until she starts classes in the fall at Houston-based Texas Southern, where she will major in business management. Wolf said Williams does not have a car to get to classes, but some people have offered to start a GoFundMe page for her, proving that a moment of a kindness can change a life.
“I’m happy for her,” Wolf said. “She’s a very, very sweet girl. Very bubbly and very shy. Her mom is precious, too. I’m just blessed to have met them.”
Eventually, Williams said, she wants to open her own restaurant. She likes to cook and has worked for years in the service business. It is no surprise she enjoys assisting others, even when no one is watching. That is the lesson she wants people to take away from this attention.
“Always be helpful,” Williams said. “Just try to help others as little or as much as you can. It doesn’t take much.”
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