Community spirit helps Neal bounce back
A WEEK ago Neal Cooley was doing it tough. In his own words, he was "down and out", carrying only a suitcase the long-time Whitsunday local was homeless and hungry until Mat Wilson, Damian Thompson and Amanda Abraham intervened last Monday night.
The odds were against Mr Cooley but things only got worse when a group of young people decided to pick on him outside McDonald's in the Airlie Beach main street.
"There were some fellas showing him some disrespect," Mr Wilson recalls.
"We taught them a lesson and made them buy him a meal."
But as a result of the commotion, McDonald's told those involved to leave, meaning Mr Cooley had to leave the bench that he had settled on that night.
Mr Wilson and his friends decided to chip in and get Neal a room at Magnums for the night.
"The next day I woke up and thought we had to go down and see how he was," Mr Wilson said.
"We got to know him a bit better. I thought he was such a good bloke so we thought we'd put an ad on Facebook asking for information on where to take him."
The response blew Mr Wilson away.
"The community went off their heads," he said.
"We didn't take donations but everyone wanted to help. Neal has since been given a free haircut while others have shown their support by providing food and clothes.
"It was really hard to get him to take things because he's such a proud fella... he's a changed man now."
A week on from what was one of the lowest points of his life, Mr Cooley has landed a job at Barcelona and he's all smiles.
"Things are going well," he said. "I've got a job and I've got a place to live." Mr Cooley said he was lost for words at the gratitude he has for the community and particularly Mr Wilson, Mr Thompson and Ms Abraham.