Saturday, 31 December 2005 09:00

Akzo Nobel and CA shops reach out to the community

Written by Karyn Hendricks
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Oprah gave away cars to her whole audience, but that is old news to the collision industry - through the Akzo Nobel Benevolence program, shop owners and employees have been giving away cars to worthy recipients for years. 

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Priscilla Pina, recipient (right), Cynthia Heilson, DVC re-entry supervisor (center) and Mary Mazion, recipient (left).
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'01 Nissan Quest rebuilt for Mary Mazion.
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'99 Mercury Sable wrapped in a bow for Priscilla Pina.

Each year the collision repair industry comes across cars that are "written off " by either the owner or the insurance company. These are usually older vehicles that just need some mechanical and body work to get them road ready and perfectly safe to drive. Akzo Nobel, an international auto paint company with a heart, has organized this community relations program whose mission is to present refurbished cars to deserving individuals or organizations during the holiday season.

Due to increased recognition, the program has grown dramatically. Last year 45 vehicles were given away. This year more than 75 will be presented to deserving individuals throughout the country.

Three's a charm

Over a hundred people gathered in the front office of Mike Rose's Auto Body, Concord, California, to watch each of three deserving people in the community receive a life-changing surprise.

Mary Mazion, a wheel-chair bound, single mother of five girls - one still at home - drove home an '01 Nissan Quest donated by AAA Insurance Co. of Northern California. Mazion, who suffers from cerebral palsy, has been without transportation since her van was stolen, forcing her to borrow vehicles from her family to get to school and work and to take her daughter to her schooling and doctor appointments.

Cynthia Heilson, a supervisor of the re-entry work program at DVC, stated that "Mary is an extremely positive person. Even through all the trying times she has had, she has always maintained a positive attitude and the car could not have gone to a more deserving person."

Priscilla Pina, also a single mother of four, left in a '99 Mercury Sable donated by Safeco Insurance. Without a vehicle, Pina and two of her daughters had to rise at 5 a.m. and negotiate the bus system to get to school and work.

"You have no idea what a difference this is going to make to me and my girls; no more waking up at the crack of dawn, no more buses. I just can't believe it. You don't win anything your entire life and then all of a sudden you get a car. I'm still in shock,"exclaimed Pina.

And the third vehicle - a '98 Ford Windstar donated by Mercury Insurance - went to not one person but an entire city of people. The Monument Crisis Center provides food, legal services, and educational classes for the lower-income families in the Concord community. Sandra Scherer, director of the program, was still shaking as she drove away. Volunteers at the Monument Crisis Center have had to use their own vehicles to transport available food to the center. With a vehicle of its own, the center will be able to pick up and deliver food to those in need.

"It's not very often that you can give to something and see the direct effect you have had on that individual. We can take cars that have some damage, repair them, and give them new life. And because this program has grown as it has, and since we have been involved with this program for the past five years, we now have companies calling us to see how they can help," said Mike Rose, owner of Mike Rose's Auto Body.


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A much needed '98 Ford Windstar van went to Monument Crisis Center.
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"You mean I'm not here to tour the shop?" Mary Ingram asked Kathy Mello.
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Mary Ingram calls home to tell her son that she was the recipient of a refurbished car from TGIF Body Shop.

"With the support of more than 50 companies and individuals, these cars are now perfectly safe to drive. It's companies like Dirito Brothers Nissan, Dublin Ford, Complete Auto Works, B & D Towing, Big O Tires (Concord Ave) and many more who make this program a success by contributing parts, tires, mechanical inspections and whatever else these cars need to become road ready.

"We feel very fortunate to be involved with such a wonderful program and are very excited to be able to give back to the community that has supported us for the past 33 years. Being in this business for that long, repairing the vehicles is the easy part; having to decide on a recipient is the part that's hard. After receiving hundreds of applications over the years and reading the heart-breaking stories, we only wish that we could do more. But hopefully with increased publicity of the benevolence program other shops will adapt a similar program of their own," concluded Rose.

A real secret santa

TGIF Body Shop, Fremont, California, an Assured Performance qualified facility, took on the Benevolence challenge as well.

Walt's Mission Pass Tow generously donated the car. After a free mechanical check by Rich's Smog, the parts to repair the car were donated by Marina Square San Leandro Nissan. The interior was refurbished by King Kovers, while the dash was repaired by Pro Trim. Tires and alignment came from Irvington Wheel and Brake. Staff from California Color Source painted the car pearl white, and the team at TGIF donated a Saturday to do the body work. In true reality show fashion, the car was completed just two days before the presentation.

Mary Ingram was the surprised recipient of TGIF's generosity. At age 12, she was in an accident that caused multiple injuries including two broken legs, which not only left her with a physical handicap, but after several surgeries, dependent on narcotics to get through the pain.

As an adult, she raised her five-year-old brother after her mother's sudden death. When his absentee father came to reclaim his son, the loss was more than she could bear. These stresses exacerbated her emotional and physical pain and she became addicted to prescription drugs. After two failed marriages, being separated from her son, and a few bad relationships (which included domestic violence), Ingram decided to make a change to improve her life.

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Industry leaders Toby Chess and March Taylor shopped at Target and Big Lots for toys. Taylor was amazed at the number of people at Target - more people than live in his home base, Kilua-Kona, Hawaii. After learning that a number of Marines returning from Iraq were short of funds to purchase toys for their families, Santa's old helpers (aka Beavis and Butthead) delivered 200 new toys to Camp Pendleton.

A friend drove her back to California for a new start. After getting lost on a country road, they veered off and ended up overturned in a river. The only thing she remembers is becoming conscious, seeing the water rising to her head, and hearing someone say "Mary give me your hands." The next thing she remembers is lying on the shore where she was being attended to by medical personnel. She was, fortunately, not physically injured , but she lost her only remaining belongings, and the money she got from selling her car.

Still intent on improving her life, she embraced her faith. In the last year, she has gone from being homeless, with only the clothes on her back, to working and having a small apartment of her own. Her faith has been rewarded with many blessings. Catholic Social Services helped get her into a new home and a local church group completely furnished it.

Ingram has spent many early mornings and late nights on the bus system getting to and from her two jobs, walking in the dark and the rain to live up to her promise to succeed. In November, her foot flared up, threatening her livelihood. She cried a lot, but persevered even as she fell behind in her ability to pay her expenses.

On December 15, as Ingram visited the TGIF Body Shop for a "tour," her life took a positive turn as she was surprised with the car, sporting a large red bow. Beyond that, the employees at TGIF donated their comp day's pay to her help pay her back rent. Ironically, the amount donated came out to be what she owed in arrears, almost to the penny.

Pastor Paul McGovern of Crossroads Church offered a blessing over Ingram and the vehicle and the Church's outreach program donated $200 for gas. Akzo Nobel gave her a food certificate and Enterprise Rent-A-Car donated a gas card. She even received a pair of special shoes donated by Foot Solutions to help with her damaged foot.

Ingram says that her whole world has opened up and she knows now that anything is possible. She aspires to give back by working with seniors as an activities director. Who knows what might open up for her now that she has wheels.

Kathy Mello, co-owner of TGIF Body Shop, could barely contain her excitement as she described the look of surprise on Ingram's face as she realized what was happening. The Mellos, their staff at TGIF, and everyone who participated in this venture give true meaning to the expression "it is better to give than to receive."

Ragan Rose, benevolence facilitator, Mike Rose's Auto Body, and Kathy Mello, co-owner, TGIF Body Shop, contributed to this article.