Chelsea Roff, 24, was having a tough day. Little did she know, it was about to get a lot better – and that millions would eventually share in her joy.
She arrived for her shift at LA’s Spring Street Smoke House restaurant on March 18 in a “terrible mood,” overwhelmed by the responsibilities of running a nonprofit while also waitressing on the side.
“I remember my boss … he was like, ‘Dude, snap out of it. You're a waitress. You have to have a smile on your face. Like, get to it.’ And I was like, all right, all right, I'll put a smile on my face, OK,” Roff recalled.
Then, after a busy lunch rush, she received her first tip: $1000.
“I've been working at the Smoke House for five months and my biggest tip over that time has probably been $50, maybe,” said Roff, who lives in Venice, Calif. The waitresses at the Spring Street Smoke House were accustomed to splitting their tips with each other, so Roff asked her boss what she should do with such a generous amount. He told her to pocket it.
“I remember thinking, we all earned this. Every waitress on duty and our whole team earned this tip,” she said.
Unbeknownst to her, the restaurant was rigged with cameras arranged by Defy Media's YouTube channel Break. It started a campaign of videos called Prank It Forward. The mission: to inspire and spread positivity to someone who deserves a break. And Chelsea Roff was the latest target.
Soon after, she received two more big tips: a trip for two to Hawaii and a job offer spurred by a casual conversation about yoga with one of the restaurant’s customers. The position? To teach yoga in a treatment center that caters to young women with eating disorders.
For Roff, it would have been a dream job. Her nonprofit, Eat Breathe Thrive, aims to help those with eating disorders fully recover by practicing yoga and receiving community support.
But why would anyone hire a stranger? Needless to say, she was skeptical.
“It happened so fast, and I was so blown away, I was like what? What is happening today? It's just too weird.”
Roff started practicing yoga when she was 19. “I stepped onto the yoga mat and I just felt at home in my own skin for the first time I could remember,” she said.
After overcoming a serious eating disorder that she developed as a teenager, discovering yoga ended up being exactly what she needed to feel whole again.
“I learned to do different meditations,” Roff said. “I would go, ‘Oh OK, belly breathing helps me feel my stomach growl. And if that's hunger then let me do these belly breathing meditations before a meal, and after a meal. And maybe I can figure this out. And maybe, maybe my body really will tell me what it needs. And maybe I can trust it.’ It took me to a whole new level in recovery.”
Her first yoga teacher remains a mentor and an inspiration in Roff’s life. So it was fitting that she joined in on Roff’s last -- and most emotional -- tip of the day.
Another customer at the restaurant handed Roff a pair of car keys, and insisted Roff follow her outside. Roff hesitated, but eventually left the restaurant, only to discover a brand new car with a huge red bow affixed to the top.
Then her yoga teacher jumped out of the car.
“I was so happy. That woman was like a mom to me, in so many different ways,” Roff said. “And she taught me the practice that saved my life … I adore her, she ... I hadn't seen her in years, and she knows how important she is to me. But I very rarely get to tell her that in person.”
For Roff, it was “the best part of the day.”
Since being posted on YouTube, Roff's Prank It Forward video has received more than 7.2 million views.
Now, she says, her hope is to continue growing her nonprofit and eventually help thousands of people coping with eating disorders.
“What restores my faith in humanity are the people who show up in love in a time of need,” she said. “And that's what's been given to me, and that's what I get to re-experience over and over again, when I get to show up for somebody else.”
If you’d like to support Eat Breathe Thrive, please click here to visit their website.