Ken's CARSTAR is accustomed to fixing cars, but its latest piece of work restored not only an automobile, but a way of life for a survivor of domestic violence.
The vehicle, a red Ford Escape, was donated by Allstate, and then four Ken's CARSTAR locations had hands in reconditioning it for Nicole Harris, said Jamie White, who owns multiple Ken's CARSTAR operations. "All of our employees helped with this, and we just love working within the community."
Harris was moved to tears when presented with the vehicle on Tuesday at Ken's CARSTAR North, since, among other benefits, it will allow her to return to her vocation of home health care aid, an occupation that had become virtually untenable by her lack of an automobile.
"I love to do that, and getting back to work is a big deal for me," Harris said. "I am so happy, words cannot describe."
The vehicle "will be life-changing for her," said Tracey Atwater, executive director of liveSAFE Resources. "She's a hard worker, and she's done a lot of things to turn (her life) around."
"It will definitely change my life," Harris agreed. "I'm so grateful."
Receiving the new gift also turned her thoughts to her mother, whom she cared for before her death.
"I know my mom is looking down on this," Harris said. "Each and every day, things are getting better in my life."
Without having to devote her limited funds to car payments, Harris will be able to turn her focus to securing living accommodations.
"I won't have to depend on anybody else," she said. "It's just me."
Harris was in a relationship with an abusive partner, and, later, she was drugged during a night out with a friend, waking up in her car without clothes or memories of what had happened that evening. She was beaten again by an attacker in August.
She also spent a stretch literally living in her car, she said: "It was actually my home."
Harris began her relationship with liveSAFE Resources more than a year ago, and the agency succors victims of domestic violence, sexual assault and elder abuse, Atwater said. liveSAFE Resources provides shelter, temporary housing, counseling, legal advocacy and programs for children, and "our mission is to turn victims into survivors."
This was the first vehicle White and his CARSTAR businesses have donated since joining the National Auto Body Council Recycled Rides program, he said. Through Recycled Rides, businesses from all elements of the collision repair industry team up to repair and donate vehicles to individuals in need of reliable transportation, and additional partners for Tuesday's gift to Harris included 1-800 Charity Cars, Taylor Tire, Ford of Dalton, Finish Masters, Axalta and Bobbie's Florist.
The timing of Tuesday's donation was felicitous, since October was National Domestic Violence Awareness Month and "one in four women fall victim to domestic violence," said Gillian Mitchell, senior consultant in strategic corporate communications for Allstate. Furthermore, in 99% of these cases, victims report that financial abuse is one of the main reasons they stay in or return to an abusive relationship.
That's why, since 2005, the Allstate Foundation has been dedicated to ending domestic violence through financial empowerment services for survivors, Mitchell said. The foundation provides educational tools and resources to help domestic violence victims break free from abuse and rebuild their lives.
Harris, who has transitioned from victim to survivor through both her own fortitude as well as the assistance of others — including everyone involved with delivering her new vehicle — has a message for anyone ensnared by domestic abuse.
"Once a person hits you, they will always hit you," she said. "They will never stop."
"Don't go back," she added. "Go forward."
As Harris goes forward with her life, she'll do so driving a Ford Escape — a fitting name since she's escaping her old life and starting anew.