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Waffle House waitress Evoni Williams said she was just doing her job, but local leaders contend her act of kindness for an elderly patron displayed the type of character that deserves recognition. Williams was working a hectic morning shift at the La Marque, Texas restaurant when an elderly man quietly asked her to cut his ham. She thought nothing of it, CNN reports.

“I was just like, ‘Sure! If you need help, that’s what I am here for,” the 18-year-old said. “My cook was calling my name to pick up food I had on the board, but I continued to cut his ham.” The two chatted briefly and a customer waiting to be seated snapped a picture and posted it to Facebook. The act of good will soon went viral, earning Williams widespread recognition and a college scholarship.

Adrien Charpentier, known by restaurant staff as “Mr. Karaoke” for his crooning at the local senior center, told CNN he’s recently struggled with his health, particularly muscle weakness in his hands, and waitresses at the Waffle House often help him out. “I can hold a fork fine and dandy, but to cut it looks like I’m going to stab somebody,” he said, adding that the help from Williams and other waitresses is greatly appreciated.

“It means a lot,” he said. “I need help and the waitresses issue it to me.” Williams’ gesture also meant a lot to La Marque Mayor Bobby Hocking, who came across the photo of her cutting Charpentier’s meat on his Facebook feed and decided to highlight the good deed. “Somebody tagged me and it immediately, it just touched my heart,” he said. “It’s so wonderful that the younger generation cares about the older generation.”

Character is most often revealed in small unseen acts of kindness. Though this action went viral, what is significant about Ms. Williams was her automatic response of kindness. It was not because she wanted some kind of self-advancement or sought self-actualization. It was simply an immediate need, which she met quietly. Researchers at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture found that character is revealed when the motivation of the person is simply “to be their best self.”  The act itself was an end, not a means to some other end. This is what makes Nini’s kindness so telling. It was this authenticity that made her action so compelling and inspiring.

Hocking declared March 8 Evoni ‘Nini’ Williams Day in hopes of building on the good will. “There is a lot of love in La Marque, Texas,” Hocking said, “And we intend to perpetuate that.”

But Hocking wasn’t the only one touched by the viral photo.

Austin A. Lane, president of the nearby Texas Southern University, also took notice. “Many of the college’s alumni saw Williams’ story and wanted to help,” CNN reports. “Through the power of social media and good will, Texas Southern University awarded Williams a $16,000 scholarship.”

“It is awesome,” Williams said. “I feel excited and happy.”

Williams told CNN she plans to study business administration in hopes of one day opening her own restaurant or hair salon.

“We wanted to reward Evoni’s act of kindness and let her know that good deeds do not go unnoticed,” TSU administrator Melinda Spaulding said. “She has the character of the type of students we want at Texas Southern University.”

For more on developing this kind of selfless behavior, see “The Moral Ecology of Formation” in The Content of Their Character.

Teachers and principals interested in character formation in their school may find help by consulting the UK's Jubilee Centre.

 

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