Unemployed, nearly broke and fearing she'd be homeless within the month, Robynn Fried of Lodi was caught in a string of bad fortune and unsure when it would end.
For more than a year, she'd been unable to find a job as a pharmacy technician and relied on her daughter to pay rent for their humble apartment in northwest Lodi. Money was running out.
But on a late February evening, Fried received a knock on her door from a 14-year-old boy named Artem, whose simple and surprising act gave her hope.
For many years, Fried has been a giver.
She spent many years as an instructional aide at Regional North Valley High School, and later worked as a DUI counselor.
Then, in 2010, she enrolled at Carrington College, where she studied pharmacy technology.
But after graduating the following year, Fried couldn't find a job. A degree in hand wasn't enough to guarantee work within a fragile economy.
Running out of places to send her resume, Fried spent more time at home, hoping for a call, an opportunity.
Sitting by the computer last month, Fried heard a rap on the door.
Standing there with blonde hair and blue eyes was 14-year-old Artem Smao. He greeted her with a bright smile and a well-rehearsed speech about the value of a newspaper subscription.
He was making the rounds through Fried's apartment complex, hoping to find enough buyers to help him win a free trip to Lake Tahoe.
But before he could finish his spiel, Fried had to interrupt.
"I let him know that I wasn't going to be able to help him out," she said.
Fried looked down at the boy, face slumped, and explained her situation — the unemployment, financial struggles and potential homelessness.
Smao looked at her with concern. He wanted to help and knew he could.
Hours had been spent canvassing, the proceeds in his pocket.
He sensed the woman needed the money more than he did.
He rummaged through his pocket, pulled out a cluster of bills and held them toward Fried.
Frozen by the boy's offer, Fried wanted to cry.
"That's just something you don't expect out of kids these days," she said. "He was trying to win a trip to Tahoe, so when you're trying to earn something, it's really unbelievable to have that person turn around and offer what they're trying to earn."
Though touched, Fried said no. But after enduring more than a year of hardships and receiving little compassion, this one act of kindness reaffirmed her confidence in the people around her.
"Seeing on the news how badly people treat one another, my faith in humanity was restored," she said. "If kids like this are still around, it gives me hope."
But those who know Smao say that's just who he is.
From a young age, Smao has learned from his parents to treat others with compassion and offer help to those in need. It is part of their Christian values, which they instilled in all seven of their children.
"Artem is really sweet," said his sister, Julia Smao. "He's the type who will always do nice things and is always generous."
Less than a week after Smao made his visit, Fried received a phone call. A friend had been promoted and wanted her to come and work as a pharmacy technician at Walgreens.
With a steady wage and rejuvenated spirit, Fried's fortunes are beginning to turn around.
Nearly a month later, thinking about Smao still makes her cry. While Smao says the act was routine, Fried believes his generosity altered her luck.
"Be kind to each other, because you never know what other person is going through," she said. "One tiny act of kindness could change someone's whole life."
Contact reporter Kristopher Anderson at email@example.com.