By Shary Lyssy
Marshall | St.
| December 16, 2009
Cars of Christmas Giveaway spreads cheer in Tampa Bay
BROOKSVILLE - The showroom at AutoWay Ford
Lincoln Mercury was packed. Employees had selected
the perfect vehicle, inspected it and buffed
it like new. Then, they gave it away.
new owner, Samantha Smith, 25, looked over
the 2001 Mazda MPV on Monday and smiled. She
has never owned a vehicle, and it had become
increasingly difficult to work or attend college
without a set of wheels.
said softly. "This
Smith is one of 13 people in the Tampa Bay
region to receive a car as part of AutoWay's "13
Cars of Christmas Giveaway." The automobile
dealership has partnered with Wheels of Success,
a nonprofit organization that helps people
continue working by helping them secure a reliable
vehicle or repair their own.
Smith's son, 3-year-old Tyler, was certain
the gift came from Santa. With a boost, he
climbed in and took a seat.
But the folks at AutoWay weren't done yet.
In the back of the minivan sat another car,
this one kid-sized.
"We wanted to do something to change
a person's life," Joe Petrillo, AutoWay's
Florida market president, said. "We wanted
to make a difference at the local level to
families in our stores' communities."
Smith, who lives in Brooksville and works
as a certified nursing assistant at HealthSouth
in Spring Hill, now can also attend evening
classes at Pasco-Hernando Community College
and move closer to her goal of becoming a physical
Wheels of Success founder and CEO Susan Jacobs
said the nonprofit hasn't traditionally operated
in Hernando County. But if other cars are donated
in the community, the group will keep working
here, she said.
Off to the side, in a T-shirt and black slacks,
Samantha's mother, Nellie Smith, 48, beamed.
Watching her daughter move closer to achieving
her own dreams was her dream, too.
"She deserves it," she said. "She's
a hard worker."
Times staffer Keri Wiginton contributed to
this report. Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached