The look on Victoria Williams’ face could best be described as utter disbelief mixed with unbridled joy.
Williams, a single mother of a 10-month-old girl, brought in her run-down car for a free oil change last Saturday at Christian Brothers Automotive in Meridian. Once a year, all 168 franchises give free oil changes to single parents.
But Williams was able to dispose of more than just her old oil. Christian Brothers surprised the 34-year-old Nampa resident by helping her leave behind her clunker entirely and drive home in an upgrade.
Williams’ tale is one of redemption and second chances. She was released from jail in April after more than a year for possession of a controlled substance. She gave birth to her daughter, also named Victoria, in jail.
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Since her release six months ago, Williams said, she has worked to get on track. She says she is sober and has a job working at a warehouse, for the sake of her daughter.
“I decided nothing is worth me going back inside and losing her,” Williams said. “I may be a felon now, but I’m working towards a lifestyle that I’ve never had and can only dream of.”
There was, however, the matter of her vehicle.
Williams said she saved up for four or five months and bought a $300 car. It couldn’t go more than 35 miles per hour and, in less than a month, it became so unreliable that Williams had to walk her daughter to day care and then walk to work. The Salvation Army referred her to Christian Brothers Automotive for the free oil change.
Brett Clancy, who owns the Meridian franchise, took one look at Williams’ car and knew it needed more than oil. After hearing Williams’ story, he thought she deserved a better car.
“I asked her (on the phone), ‘Have you ever driven stick? And she said, ‘Yeah, but it’s been awhile,’ ” Clancy said with a chuckle. “I told her, ‘We’ll help you with that.’ ”
Clancy picked Williams up at work on Wednesday afternoon, drove her to the Division of Motor Vehicles to fill out paperwork, and took her to pick up her car, a four-door 1999 Honda Accord. It has about 200,000 miles on it and, thanks to Clancy and his employees, a new windshield, hubcaps and timing belt.
Child in hand, Williams was nearly in tears before she drove it away.
“I have every single reason to be so happy,” she said as she looked down at her daughter in her arms. “I don’t know how long it would take me to save up for another car.”
Single mothers walked into the shop Saturday with with a plethora of car issues: failing brakes, overheating, broken timing belts. Budget permitting, Clancy and his crew (who volunteer their time for the day) fix them. They worked on about 10 cars this year.
Each Christian Brothers shop receives $2,500 from the franchiser to help customers with repairs above what is spent on the oil changes, Clancy said. A year ago, several locations pooled together unused money to make the van of a man in Billings, Mont., wheelchair-accessible. Clancy pays for the oil changes himself.
One of Clancy’s mechanics had a Honda on the market and sold it to him. New parts were donated by NAPA Auto Parts in Meridian.
“We really try to support them and what they’re doing,” said Matt Dyson, the regional manager for NAPA Auto Parts. “I wasn’t expecting (to help build a new car) but I know Brett likes to help people out. When Brett approaches a situation, we want to be right there with him.”
Clancy’s daughter, Erin, is a single mother too.
“It’s a topic that’s near and dear to me,” he said. “The loss of a car is a gateway to homelessness for a single mom. … If the kid is sick at school and she’s the only income owner, she has to drop everything and go. It’s just a hard road.”
Amber Gassman, 29, is another single mother who walked into Christian Brothers Automotive last weekend expecting just a free oil change. The shop also repaired her brakes for free.
“I was speechless,” said Gassman, who works at American Family Insurance. “It’s wonderful to know that there’s nice people out there that are doing things for the right reasons.”
Clancy said local churches and homeless shelters tell people they serve about the annual event. Included are the Boise Rescue Mission’s Lighthouse Rescue Mission and Valley Women and Children’s Shelter in Nampa, and Choose to Succeed, a local group that coaching for single mothers.
Any woman could walk in and ask for a car tuneup. Clancy doesn’t require proof of single motherhood. He counts on honesty. A man once showed up in need of car service on National Service Day, he said. Though he wasn’t a single mother, Clancy fixed his car.
Williams is grateful.
“My faith is renewed in good people in this world who have good intentions,” she said.