Lisa Colvin, firstname.lastname@example.org
Life just got a little easier for Jaleane Thomas.
On Saturday, Thomas, a Highland Township resident and single mother who works 80-plus hours every week at MediLodge of Milford, learned she’d been chosen as the recipient of a completely refurbished 2004 Malibu Classic.
“I honestly didn’t think it would be me,” said Thomas, taking several minutes to wipe away tears and compose herself before climbing behind the wheel to get a feel for her new car.
The best thing about it? A backseat where her son, Audin, 2, can ride safely.
Wheels to Prosper
It all started back in May when Karen Wielkopolan of Milford’s Downtown Garage announced she was participating in Wheels to Prosper, a nationwide initiative started in 2011 by a California auto shop owner who wanted to “change the reputation and quality of service in the automotive repair industry,” and make a positive difference in his own community.
This year, 46 shops across the country – including Downtown Garage – gave away a car to a “deserving” individual or family.
Wielkopolan purchased the Malibu from clients who decided against making costly repairs the car needed, and Downtown Garage mechanics – along with other community partners – got to work, donating the materials, parts, time and effort to the project.
The end result: a safe car that looks and drives like new.
Right from the start, Wielkopolan asked for help in the decision-making process from her pastor, Paul Jenkinson of Oak Pointe Church in Milford.
Jenkinson was on hand Saturday, and said the project embodied what he tries to instill in his congregation.
We talk often in church about how we can use the gifts God gave us to help others,” Jenkinson said. “Karen is an amazing example of someone who uses her skills and abilities to bless the community.”
So, after receiving 19 nomination letters from people who either needed a car or knew someone who did, Wielkopolan and Jenkinson narrowed the field and talked with each of the five finalists over the phone.
“It wasn’t an easy choice,” Jenkinson said. “We learned a lot about these people through the letters, but when we talked to them on the phone and got to know them a bit we heard more about their stories and we heard their hearts.”
In the end, he and Wielkopolan individually came to the same conclusion, and Jaleane Thomas emerged as the winner.
“What really made it clear was the breadth of support she had,” Jenkinson said, noting about a dozen of Thomas’ coworkers and friends sent letters on her behalf. Her boss, MediLodge Kitchen Manager Sharon Boggetta, got the ball rolling. Her coworkers and friends followed suit, submitting letters about Thomas’ work ethic, kindness and – above all – dedication to her young son.
“She’s the most genuinely sweet person you’ll ever meet,” Boggetta said. “She’d do anything for anyone.”
While Thomas works 80 hours a week between her two jobs at the facility – one as a cook and a second in the activity center – she never calls in and always works hard, she added. Everyone who knows Thomas, Boggetta said, loves her.
Thomas said being chosen as the recipient of the car, for which she’ll pay $1, was nothing short of “amazing.”
“I haven’t had a car in about five years,” she said, still wiping away tears several minutes after Wielkopolan – also teary – handed her the keys and followed with a long hug. “I was able to get a house for us after my son was born. That was the most important thing – having a place to live. But I’m the only provider; I couldn’t afford a house and a car.”
“It’s amazing that (Downtown Garage) did this,” she added. “It doesn’t matter who won; it’s just the biggest blessing that they would do this for someone.”
Wielkopolan said she found the whole experience rewarding.
“The giving and sharing in this community made someone’s life better,” she said, acknowledging her mechanics, who embraced the project, as well as a long list of community partners who helped with refurbishment of the car.
Among those was David Ellis of Car Inc. in Milford, who donated bodywork and also went to lengths to find the big red bow that adorned the vehicle Saturday.
“It was just a great opportunity to do something for the community, to give something back,” said Ellis. “This is my hometown and these are my people.”
Other contributors included O’Reillys; Parts Plus; 1-800-RADIATOR; LKQ; Discount Tire, Sew Be It; Captain Jack; Oak Pointe Church; Milford Glass; and C & S Stitch Works.