LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WDRB) -- Lewis O'Neal grew up in what was called Village West -- a housing project in west Louisville -- and for 25 years, he's been searching for a police officer who altered the path of his life.

Everyone is dealt a different hand in life and O'Neal's deck stacked up differently than most kids.

"You see a lot of violence. We found a dead body in the back of our house before. I've watched a friend of mine die in front of me. I've seen it, I've seen it," O'Neal said.

He describes his early life by saying he was was on the verge of going down the wrong path.

"A lot of my friends got to dealing drugs and I see them paying their bills, clothes, cars," said O'Neal.

Growing up, he said it was just his mom and sister and they struggled to keep the lights on. He jokes with his wife that he will not eat macaroni and cheese, because it was a cheap meal he ate so much as a child.

One man steered him in the right direction.

"He talked to me about stuff that nobody in the neighborhood would talk to me about," O'Neal said. "he showed me that there is another way."

He just knew the Louisville police officer as Walt, who patrolled the area and often spoke with kids.

"I came up to Walt one day and I said, 'Walt, I need a job.' Walt said, 'I can't find you a job, but I can tell you what you need to do to get a job,'" O'Neal said. 

Walt gave the teen some advice, "Once you put the application in, don't let it sit," O'Neal recalled him saying. "'Keep going up there and let them really know you want to work there.' I took that advice, and never looked back since."

He was 16-years-old when he got his first job at a deli and has been on the straight and narrow ever since, but that wasn't the case for some of his friends.

"Three of them were victims to the streets. I keep in touch with one, he turned out to be a deacon," he explained. "When we moved out of the neighborhood I lost contact with Walt, and I didn't see him for 25 years. But I never forgot what he did for me."

Every time he saw an officer, he would ask one question: "Do you know Walt Aberli?"

After 25 years, it paid off.

"She said, Lewis, I haven't found Walt yet but I promise I'm going to find him for you," said O'Neal of a female officer who was trained by Aberli years earlier.

That officer tracked Walt Aberli down, who is now retired after 25 years on the force.

"It was such a touching moment for me to find out that Lewis had held me in his heart for so long, and to say I had a positive impact on him," said Aberli.

Aberli surprised Lewis at work recently.

"He says, 'You remember me?'  I said no," O'Neal recalled. "Then he takes off his glasses and smiles, I lost it!"

Other officers are inspired by their story.

"Chief Rick McCubbin with Bardstown Police said this is something that makes every police officers' day," Aberli said with a lump in his throat. "It does. It made an impact."

Leaving the JCTC cafeteria where, years ago, they would often talk over a soda, they took a stroll down memory lane.

"Right there, 1025, that's where I grew up," O'Neal pointed out at the housing complex. Call it coincidence, but they ran into another old friend. It was one of the other kids who made it -- Lewis' friend, the deacon.

"He was just one that always looked out for those in the community, just a good dude," Marcus Workman said of Aberli.

You can't change what you are born into. But sometimes, others can help steer you down the right path.

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