Wheels of HOPE provides free vehicles to local women in need
Two single mothers were given a free like-new vehicle Thursday night through Collex Collision Experts’ Wheels of HOPE, a benevolence car program.
The women also received free car insurance for one year, approximately $1,000 for gas money, road service and vehicle maintenance training.
Wheels of HOPE first began in Michigan four years ago before it was introduced to Florida. This is the second year the program has been held in Florida.
Wheels of HOPE is a charity program that was designed to help families “get on the road to a brighter future.”
Collex Collision Experts partnered with One by One Leadership, the Naples Shelter for Abused Women and the Traffic Safety Association to identify individuals who were in need of reliable transportation.
“The reason why we do this is because we find little ways to give back to the community,” Julie Gagliano, community relations director of Collex Collision Experts, said. “We feel that it is a good thing to do to help others and give back to the community.”
The employees of Collex Collision Experts fix everything that is wrong with the vehicles on their own free time to make them look brand new.
“Our employees love it and they all get involved and take a lot of pride in their work,” Gagliano said. “They do a very nice job and they treat it like it is a regular job coming through.”
The two vehicles that were donated through the program included a 2002 Chrysler Town and Country van and a 2006 Hyundai Elantra.
Wheels of HOPE is a community project, Gagliano said, without the community donating vehicles and businesses donating money, Collex Collision Experts would not be able to host the program.
She said businesses they work with through the collision center donate parts that the vehicles need to make them look and run new. The big donation this year was a new engine for the van.
Gagliano said both of the vehicles look “absolutely beautiful.”
Collex Collision Experts has a committee of 10 people that sits down with the stories and facts collected from local nonprofit organizations to find single parents who are in need of a vehicle.
The committee chooses the top three candidates, which Gagliano interviews, picking the two who are the most deserving.
Gagliano said in order to be chosen for the program, applicants must be a single parent who is working or going to school, do not own a vehicle, have a good driving record and have no criminal record.
Thursday’s ceremony began with thanks to everyone who was involved in making this year’s event a success for the two recipients.
Gagliano told the crowd, along with the two families, that they wanted to hold the ceremony to show their appreciation for what everyone has done to make the program possible, along with show the families the people who worked on their vehicles.
“We are looking for good people who are trying to do good for themselves,” she said. “Tonight I feel very comfortable with these two ladies we have here tonight.”
Cape Coral resident Rose Steimel, a single mother of a 4-year-old, 13-year-old and 17-year-old, received the 2002 Chrysler Town and Country van.
Steimel, who is a teacher, has been in the education field for 11 years and has been at the same school for seven years.
Gagliano said Steimel lost her husband four years ago to a massive heart at age 38, days after her son’s first birthday party.
“At age 38 Harry, the father of three children and my husband of 15 years, was gone,” Steimel said in a prepared statement.
“Her husband was the type of guy who drove everywhere,” Gagliano said, adding that the Steimels are “a very close knit family.”
The vehicle Steimel was driving was more than 15 years old and had a great deal of problems, which ended up costing her a great deal of money. Gagliano said the repairs grew to be too much for Steimel to take care of on top of her children.
“She is a beautiful woman,” she said. “I am real happy with her. She is an awesome lady.”
“I want to thank you for considering me. Even if I don’t receive the car, I think what your doing is such an amazing thing and very important,” Steimel said. “Helping others is something most people aren’t doing these days. Thank you for helping those in need.”
Steimel stood next to her new van and said over and over how amazing it is to have the vehicle for her family.
She said receiving the vehicle is a huge blessing for her family.
“I have to drive it now. I’m scared,” Steimel said while smiling.
Kaila Foster, a Naples resident and single mother of a 3-year-old daughter, received the 2006 Hyundai Elantra.
She left her abusive husband six months ago and headed to the Shelter for Abused Women and Children.
Gagliano said Foster left her husband with just the clothes on her back. Before she received the free car, Foster would commute three miles to and from work on her bike with her daughter in tow.
“I will now be able to use the time it took to travel to day care and work on my bike to work extra hours, which in turn will provide more for my daughter and me,” Foster said in a prepared statement. “This will give me another stepping stone to becoming a stronger, more independent single mom.”
After she was provided with the car, Foster stood speechless next to it when asked what receiving the vehicle meant to her.
“I am very, very happy,” she said. “I don’t know if I have ever been this happy. I am so blessed.”
Gagliano said she would love to give more cars away every year.
Both of the families drove their new cars home after the Thursday’s ceremony.