In the past couple of decades, the internet has grown and changed in so many surprising ways.
For example, take memes, which are viral images with (usually funny) words.
A successful meme might get shared a million times across Facebook and Twitter, like this mom who became a meme with a photo celebrating her kids going back to school.
But one of the most famous memes of them all is called “Success Kid.”
It features a little boy at the beach making a fist and pulling a determined face. The image is still posted constantly on the web.
Of course, what people forget is that Success Kid is a real person, a young man named Sam Griner.
Sam and his family never expected the surge of internet fame, which exploded after his mom, Laney Griner, posted the photo to her Flickr account after a beach trip.
Still, when Sam’s dad, Justin Griner, got sick a couple of years back, the family decided it was time to put the boy’s accidentally famous mug to work!
If you spend much time on the internet, you probably recognize the “Success Kid” meme.
If you’re not that familiar, a meme is defined by Merriam-Webster as “an amusing or interesting picture, video, etc., that is spread widely through the internet.”
(And in case you’re wondering, it’s pronounced meem.)
The meme features a little tyke in a green and white shirt making a defiant fist with a look of determination on his face.
Something about this photo tickles people so much that they regularly share it, often adapted to tell the story of their success.
But the simple photo of a little boy was never expected to take off into the viral stratosphere — it was just something his mom shared on Flickr.
After the Griner family went on a trip to the beach back in 2007, mom Laney caught then-11-month-old Sam trying to eat a fistful of sand.
She snapped a picture of the hilarious moment and put it up in her online photo album.
The meme took off, but people forgot all about the family originally behind the photo. That was fine with the Griners.
That changed in 2015, when Justin Griner, Sam’s dad, learned that he needed a kidney transplant.
The family knew that the surgery would be incredibly costly and thought that maybe Sam’s now-infamous face might bring some much-needed help.
Justin Griner got sick from an inherited disease back in 2006 and suffered from total kidney failure in 2009.
When his kidneys failed, he went on dialysis, a mechanical process that replaces kidney function for the body.
However, the dialysis wasn’t a long-term solution for the young dad, and in 2015, at age 39, he learned that he would need a brand-new kidney.
Sam stepped up to the plate, and the family leveraged his internet fame into a wildly successful GoFundMe.
Thousands of folks online had drawn amusement, happiness, and confidence from little Sam’s determined face.
That meme, small as it seems, became internet shorthand for the feeling of being very satisfied with an unexpected achievement.
And, as we all know, the internet can be a powerful force for good when it sets its mind to it.
The Griners built their GoFundMe page, hoping for $75,000 to help fund Justin’s treatment, and that, just maybe, a kind stranger might even be a donor match.
People delivered, and then some — the Griners ended up raising $100,000 in days.
Of Sam, Laney Griner tells LittleThings, “He’s extremely proud that, because of his photo’s popularity, we were able to raise far more than we ever dreamed.”
The money went to cover out-of-pocket expenses for the surgery.
Justin Griner was able to get his kidney surgery in August of 2015, and the whole family is doing better than ever.
As for Sam, he’s glad he had such a unique opportunity to raise money for his dad, but he’s not looking for any more viral fame.
His mom explains that he loves, “drawing and clay modeling, skateboarding, beat boxing, and our dogs. He spends a lot of time watching YouTube’rs, and has said he’d like to have his own channel.”
So we’d advise everyone to keep a look-out for this awesome kiddo — he may not be interested in going “viral” again, but he’s definitely going places!
If you’re impressed with Sam and his awesome family, make sure to SHARE their incredible “success” story!