TOPEKA — About a year ago, Waheed Burnside was homeless and cut off from human connections, but when a Topeka woman took a chance on him, his life changed course.
Burnside now has a job, a car and a roof over his head. He also has a family.
"He's a pretty big success story," said Kimberly Daugherty, who met Burnside in December 2016 while teaching an eight-week employment class at the Washburn Institute of Technology.
On the second day of class, Daugherty pulled Burnside aside. He didn't seem engaged, and she thought he had an attitude problem.
"I thought I knew every type of student," she said.
Burnside apologized and explained that he was homeless and used to being alone.
The Topeka Capital-Journal reports that Daugherty learned more about Burnside's life. He had been living at a Manhattan shelter, but when it reached capacity, he was told there were openings in Topeka. Without transportation, he said, he walked. Since Thanksgiving 2016, he had been living at the Topeka Rescue Mission.
Daugherty said Burnside experienced extreme isolation and didn't feel he was worthy of acknowledgment. His body language conveyed an attempt to be invisible, and he often avoided eye contact.
As the end of the employment class neared, Burnside said he was also approaching the time limit for his stay at the rescue mission. Because he didn't have children or a substance abuse problem, he was disqualified from many services, Daugherty said.
He wanted to continue attending a GED class and welding certification program but wasn't sure how that would be possible.
Daugherty sat down with her husband and told him she thought Burnside was a student worth investing in.
"I just knew there was something different about him," she said.
After the employment class was completed, in February 2017, Burnside moved in with Daugherty's family.
Burnside said it was "weird at first." He explained that he hadn't lived with his own family very long.
"I got a chance to see what a family is like," he said. After a while, it was "pretty nice," he said.
He stayed with the Daughertys for about three months before being able to rent his own place. Later he earned his GED and welding certification.
"I didn't think any of it was possible," said Burnside, a welder who hopes to one day create his own blacksmithing work.
Cassandra Santiago, 17, Daugherty's oldest daughter, said she is proud of Burnside's accomplishments.
When Daugherty asks her youngest daughter, Gwynevere, what she thinks of Burnside, the 9-year-old answers, "Family."
Noah, 7, said he was glad to have another male around, and Daugherty said Burnside and her husband have a "bromance."
The family has enjoyed spending holidays together, making up nicknames for each other and attending events like the Renaissance Festival. Daugherty taught Burnside to drive, and later, Burnside taught Cassandra to drive.
Burnside said the past year has been life-changing.
Still, challenges remain. It can be hard for Burnside to meet new people, Daugherty said. She has also witnessed the barriers faced by those working to break out of poverty. Because of credit issues, Burnside can't get a checking account. Instead, he has to pay a fee to get his paychecks cashed, which cuts into his income.
They have also experienced suspicious comments and looks when out in public. People judge based on looks, Daugherty said, and that has been eye-opening.
Daugherty said she wanted to share her story because there are people who deserve "radical kindness."
"It could change everything for you and them," she said. "It changed all of us."
Cassandra said people shouldn't be afraid to be compassionate.
"It's better to have kindness, because kindness is the only thing that keeps this world together," Gwynevere said.