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Donated wheels get family rolling again

Monday, November 12, 2012 - 12:01 am

HOWELL, Mich. – The accident did more than destroy her car; it threw her family's life into turmoil.

"It was just devastating," said Elizabeth Feltis of Howell, a single mother of four left without transportation after a drunken driver totaled her car in July. "When you have a family and can't get around, it's a challenge."

Recently, however, brought a new car and a fresh start, courtesy of Citizens Insurance and several area social service agencies.

"This is really is a new beginning," Feltis said upon taking possession of the donated 2001 Chrysler 300 outside Citizens' offices on Highlander Way.

"I feel like I've been through a hurricane, and now this."

The donation was arranged through Citizens and its parent company, the Hanover Insurance Group of Worcester, Mass., as part of both companies' Recycled Rides program. Feltis is one of five people nationwide to have received a car this year.

It couldn't have gone to a more deserving person, said Denise Witt of the Oakland Livingston Human Service Agency, who nominated Feltis as a potential recipient.

"You get the feeling she's someone who is doing all she can to make a better life for herself and family," Witt said.

Feltis' family includes a 19-year-old special-needs son and a 14-year-old and an 8-year-old at home, as well as a 22-year-old daughter living on her own.

Feltis' friend Jan Sherman of Howell, said Feltis was "really overwhelmed" by the support she's received.

"What this community has done, what this company has done, is amazing," Sherman said.

Though her voice cracked when she recalled the strain the accident placed on her family, Feltis also found time to smile as she took the keys.

"I've been walking a lot; that's why I've lost weight," she said, responding to a question about how she'd been managing without a car.

Though people in Ohio, Illinois, Massachusetts and New York will also receive cars this year, and someone from the Grand Rapids area received one last year, this is the first time someone from the local area was a recipient.

Citizens donated the Champaign-colored Chrysler, valued at about $6,000 and adorned with a large green bow for the presentation.

"Our primary goal is to fulfill the promises we make to our policyholders," said Paul Mueller, regional president of the Hanover Insurance Group.

Mueller acknowledged the car donation exceeded that goal, and he praised local Citizens employees for their support of the United Way of Livingston County, another program partner.

The car was acquired at auction, said John Kehrer of Superior Collision Center, and it checked out beautifully.

"It was in pretty good shape," said Kehrer, whose Brighton shop replaced a fender and performed routine maintenance on the vehicle.

It took a team effort to get Feltis and her family back on the road, said Nancy Rosso of the local United Way, praising Citizens and Superior Collision for their donations and the Hartland Insurance Agency for covering registration, licensing and insurance costs.

Barbara Walker of the Hartland Insurance Agency accompanied Feltis to the secretary of state’s office to register her new car.

"It’s great to see something like this happen for someone who’s so grateful," Walker said. "She’s an inspiration."

Feltis said she hoped the new car would allow her to continue living and working in the Howell area.

Sherman, who recently moved to Howell, said she was clearly inspired by her new friend.

"It makes me want to volunteer for something," she said. "I want to pay it forward for her."