After the Donation: CA Veteran’s Benevolence Car Helps Her in Time of Need

Veteran TeJae Dunnivant and her son received a 2014 VW Jetta from CSAA Insurance. CSAA Insurance Group's Community Affairs Coordinator Victor Cordon stands with the Dunnivants at Mike's Auto Body.
Veteran TeJae Dunnivant and her son received a 2014 VW Jetta from CSAA Insurance. CSAA Insurance Group's Community Affairs Coordinator Victor Cordon stands with the Dunnivants at Mike's Auto Body.

When deserving people get cars from body shops, either MSOs or independents, it is always a win-win for the industry and the community.

In this series, we will follow up to find out how these vehicles have helped these deserving people pursue their dreams and achieve their goals after they received their cars.

In 2016, Army Reserve Veteran TeJae Dunnivant and her son, Asad, received a 2014 VW Jetta from Mike's Auto Body in northern California's East Bay. The vehicle was donated by CSAA Insurance and the giveaway was sponsored by the Blue Star Moms while TeJae was working as a Cal Vet Advisor at the University of California, Berkeley and pursuing her degree. At the time, she needed the car to get to and from school and other chores. But when life threw TeJae a curveball, the Benevolence Program vehicle from Mike's Auto Body became even more instrumental to the survival of her and her family.

Three months after receiving the vehicle, TeJae found out that Asad (now 12) had leukemia.

"In February of 2017 we got the news, and of course that was a major shock," she said. "When I originally wrote my letter for the car, I stated that I needed it to go to the grocery store and go to the food banks, which is hard to do on foot. But now we were using it to go back and forth from Albany, where we live, to Oakland Children's Hospital, so the car became [a much] more important lifeline for us and a more major part of our lives."

With Asad's diagnosis, public transportation wasn't even an option, so the car made it even more important, TeJae explained.

"Once your child has AML leukemia like Asad has, they undergo a bone marrow transplant, which means it kills his immune system and can't be on public transportation. For a full year, he was not allowed to go on the bus, so the car was a true blessing. All I kept thinking was, ‘Thank God I got this car from Mike's Auto Body.’"

It was a stressful time, and the vehicle helped TeJae get through this anxious and uncertain time, she said.

"The car was key for many reasons, and it made our lives a little easier,” she said. “We were going through a very tough period, but at least I didn't have to worry about transportation. When things get like that, stuff can really pile up, but at least we didn't have any anxiety about not having transportation."

After Asad's treatments, getting food for him to eat was essential. That's where the vehicle was even more vital.

"Asad lost his hair and the treatment killed his taste buds, so I had to go to the grocery store to get food that he could eat," TeJae said. "He had to eat only processed food because fresh fruit and vegetables can contain bacteria. So I was constantly going to Trader Joe's to buy things such as Indian frozen food that he would like and that he could eat. His diet was very limited, but by getting the right food, he was able to eat and keep his strength up."

Amazingly, during this very stressful time, TeJae was able to stay in school at UC Berkeley and pursue her degree in media studies.

"A lot of people were telling me that it's crazy for me to stay in school while my child was undergoing cancer treatment," she said. "But with the Jetta, I could go from the hospital to school and not drop out, which was a big deal for me. This summer, I will be completing my last two classes and earn my degree. In the spring, I walked through my graduation, so I am so excited about the next chapter in my life."

Coincidentally, TeJae worked on a fellowship team at UC Berkeley developing an augmented reality product that is designed to mitigate anxiety in children undergoing cancer treatment.

"We took it all from ideation all the way to the prototype stage, and we're now applying for full certification,” she said."It may lead to becoming a startup now. We're pretty excited about it because it will help children alleviate their anxiety when they are going through cancer treatment. I am now working with some of the best oncologists at Oakland Children's Hospital to work with the children with our prototype."

Asad's treatment is now done, and he is definitely almost completely recovered at this point, TeJae said.

"He got his second round of immunizations, his hair has grown back and he is gaining weight, which is wonderful,” she said. “He is still not in school because he isn't completely immunized yet, but he is scheduled to go back to school in the fall."

CFO Ragen Rose at Mike's Auto Body discussed the value of her company's Benevolence Program, which is now in its 18th year.

"It is an amazing experience every time we see the recipients get their cars," she said. "Everyone has to be able to get around and get to work---taking the kids to school, sports, doctor's appointments, etc. We know that having a reliable car makes a huge difference, and sometimes we take it for granted. The goal of this program is to make that difference in peoples' lives, and that's why I am very proud to say that we really care about the people and the communities we work and live in."

Mike's Auto Body CEO Brennan Rose never gets tired of helping people by giving them the gift of transportation.

"The day of our Benevolence Program is one of the best days of the year for us," he said. "It brings our dealership partners, our insurance partners and our technician teams together to make this happen with a charity we partner with. They all come together to find the right vehicle, get the right parts, repair it the right way and find the right recipient to make this happen.

"On top of this, we have many local insurance agents donating presents to put in the car and be a part of our event. This program gives all of us at Mike’s Auto Body a sense of great pride, and that's why we are so grateful for the partnerships we have."

Looking back on the Benevolence car and what followed, TeJae is moving forward and looking toward better days.

"Yes, it has been a tough journey, but we are proud of ourselves and so thankful for the car," she said. "Not everyone gets a vehicle from Mike's Auto Body, and this experience has been incredible. Asad came through the treatment and I am graduating from Cal, and none of this would have happened without the Benevolence program at Mike's Auto Body. I would like to thank former recipient and Cal student Tito Ramos for recommending me for the car, and of course I would also like to thank everyone at Mike's for helping us in so many ways!"

Ed Attanasio

Ed Attanasio is an automotive journalist and Autobody News columnist based in San Francisco.

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