California police officer Kirk Keffer admits that the routine pedestrian stop he made on an African-American teenager late one night last September “could have gone in a hundred different directions.”
Instead, the actions of the Benicia Police Department veteran and Jourdan Duncan, 19, have touched and inspired millions of people around the world.
Duncan was walking home after getting off his night shift job packing boxes at a nutritional supplement company when the 45-year-old police corporal pulled up behind him in a squad car on a darkened, deserted street in an industrial section of the Northern California town.
“Where you walking to?” he asked the young man in the hoody, who immediately began fumbling with his headphones.
A moment later, Duncan informed him that he was simply doing what he did on most nights: “Walking home, sir,” he replied. “It takes me a little over two hours one way.”
Keffer was stunned when he realized the teenager walked four hours to and from work.
“Let me drive you home,” he told Duncan, who later explained during the seven-mile ride back to his house that he was working to help his parents and to save up for college tuition with the goal of one day becoming a California Highway Patrol officer.
“I just had to shake his hand when he got out of the car,” Keffer tells PEOPLE. “I told him I admired his work ethic and there was nothing he couldn’t accomplish.”
Keffer also told his supervisor about the impressive youth and two days later he and several other officers surprised Duncan at his job with a gift to help make his commute easier – a $500 mountain bike.
Duncan admits to being “stunned and flabbergasted” by the present. Before long, the hardworking teen began going on ride-alongs with the man he now calls his “dear friend and mentor” as others in the department launched a GoFundMe page to raise money for his tuition and car repairs. The amount hit $10,000 within days and now stands at $47,000— $3,000 shy of its $50,000 goal.
“I still can’t believe any of this,” explains Duncan, who started taking classes at Solano Community College in January (he’s majoring in law enforcement) and recently purchased a “new” 14-year-old VW Pasaat. “Everything he’s done for me has been life-changing.”
For Keffer, who has received messages from around the world “thanking him for his kindness,” the experience simply reaffirms why he decided to become a police officer in the first place.
“We’re not all about crime and punishment,” Keffer says. “We’re out there to improve the quality of life whenever we can.”
Know a hero? Send suggestions to “firstname.lastname@example.org. For more inspiring stories, read the latest issue of PEOPLE magazine.