Teen who went viral walking for work, now paying it forward with new foundation

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Just 10 days after trudging through the snow and ice landed an Indianapolis teen a job, the overwhelming response from across the globe has led him to begin paying it forward.

“I describe it as a work of God,” said 18-year-old Jhaqueil Reagan, who admits he didn’t really believe much in God prior to his encounter last week with Art Bouvier, owner of Papa Roux restaurant in Indianapolis.

On Feb. 22, Reagan had no money but he had a job interview nearly 10 miles away. Despite weather that dumped snow and sleet on Indianapolis, Reagan decided to walk the entire distance.

Along the way he stopped to ask Bouvier for directions. Bouvier was so impressed by his dedication to find work that he later decided to offer Regan a job at his restaurant.

“I’m thinking to myself, here’s a kid walking almost 10 miles in the ice and slush and snow for the hope of a job at minimum wage,” Bouvier said during an interview with Fox59 later that day. “That’s the kind of story your parents used to tell, my parents used to tell, up both ways in the snow.”

Since then, Reagan’s story has also become the stuff of legend. He’s been immortalized in his own editorial cartoon, done interviews on several national programs and seen his picture pop up on stories he can’t begin to translate.

“People all over the globe have seen me,” Reagan said. “It’s really crazy.”

“The story, as one of my customers put it, is redefining viral,” Bouvier said.

That’s because it’s added up to much more than just “likes” and “shares”, it’s created a new life for Reagan.

“It really has changed quick,” Reagan said. “I went from sleeping on a couch to sleeping in my own house, you know, my own apartment.”

Reagan admits he was homeless and living with friends until Bouvier helped connect him with a landlord who saw his story.

Reagan also didn’t have a phone, but he soon met representatives with Boost Mobile who changed that. Now, he’s taking phone calls from the Chicago Bulls organization. They contacted him after seeing him on television, proudly wearing his favorite Chicago Bulls hat.

“They gave me some tickets to the Bulls,” Reagan said. “I was really impressed. I think it’s awesome.”

Reagan also received a free bus pass from an employee of IndyGo, though he hasn’t had to use it too much ever since meeting his co-workers, who have volunteered to give him rides.

“I really appreciate it,” Reagan said. “I’m really grateful.”

Reagan’s story didn’t just land him a job. Papa Roux has been so busy since the first story that Bouvier has had to hire extra staff to keep up with unprecedented demand.

“We’ve got five new permanent hires,” Bouvier said.

Some of those employees have spent a lot of time answering phones.

“My cashiers have turned into receptionists,” Bouvier said, pointing to a list of people who have called and offered donations.

He also has a box full of slips with even more names and numbers.

“Each slip is an individual contact of a person with a name and a number and they want to help financially,” Bouvier said.

In fact, so many donations have come in that Reagan decided to create the Jhaqueil Reagan Foundation. He says half of the money will go to help disadvantaged people find work. The other half will help him along with a group of the most important people he’s met in the past 10 days.

“Twenty-five percent of my half is going to Papa Roux employees,” Reagan said. “They have been working their fingers to the bone, while all of this has been going on. The restaurant has been more busy than it has ever been and they really deserve it.”

If you would like to give to the Reagan’s Foundation, send donations to:
Jhaqueil Reagan Foundation
973 N Shadeland Box 323
Indianapolis, IN 46219

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