Wheels 4 Hope

by Terry Watson | May 11th, 2012

Tammie Ellis, a nurse before her burn accident, saved for a year in order to qualify for a car. It was awful the way it happened. Thirty-nine year-old Tammie Ellis was preparing to grill supper for her family. She had told the apartment management about a propane leak in the grill, but nothing had been done. Disaster hit when she lit the fire. Everything went up in a fiery explosion: her clothing, a pan of hot oil, her skin. By the time the blaze was under control Tammie had third-degree burns over her left hand, her right hip and her left thigh.

For two weeks she waited for the dead skin to peel before skin grafts could occur. It was a nightmare. Although Tammie was glad to be alive, there were serious repercussions. Without use of her hand she could no longer work as a LPN, no longer cook or clean, or even support her children. Shaye, the oldest, was in college at UNC-Charlotte, but the 7 and 14 year-olds had to move to their father’s residence. Tammie applied for disability, which became her sole income. Her parents were dead, her siblings “scattered everywhere.”

Three years later, things are looking up, in large part thanks to Wheels4Hope, a nonprofit car donation program. The program, highly successful in Raleigh, is being replicated in the Triad.

In February, Tammie became the second Triad resident to purchase a refurbished car from Wheels4Hope. It took her a full year to save the requisite $500 plus the cost of half a year’s insurance, title, and license. At transfer, a small group of Wheels4Hope leaders and friends gathered outside Redhead Hall to bless Tammie’s new car. Afterward, she visited the car’s donors to thank them personally.

For Tammie, personal transportation has made all the difference in the world. Instead of taking the bus to the grocery – formerly a two-hour trek each way, including several transfers – she can whisk to the store of her choice. B.C. – Before Car – Tammie often rubbed shoulders with standing-room-only crowds on the bus. She had to work around her burns by draping a cloth bag of groceries over one arm and lugging a second with her good hand. Now she can load her car and even stop at other stores.

Wheels4Hope operates on the principal that reliable transportation is vital for self-sufficiency. That seems obvious, but most of us don’t consider what life would be without it. “I never gave it a thought,” Tammie explained. “After the accident I lost my job. Then my car broke down, and I couldn’t afford to fix it.”

Tammie tried to shield her children from her vulnerability, but it was obvious that things were not the same. Now that she is mobile, “It means everything to be able to have lunch with my daughter at college, to go with the kids to pick out clothes – to actually see what they like. I took those little things for granted before.”
Tammie is unable to support her children by herself, but she and her ex-husband work together. While he works third shift, Tammie drives to his home (as opposed to taking a bus to Jamestown and walking the rest of the way as she had done B.C.). She helps with homework and supper, stays overnight, then sees the kids off to school. Although she is still unable to work as a nurse, she has begun to sit with homebound patients to make a little money. She plans to retake her nursing boards to regain her license as an LPN. Before the accident she had completed coursework for an R.N., she hopes to take a refresher course and sit for those boards as well.
All cars donated to the program are repaired and inspected for safety. Wheels4Hope in Raleigh also sells cars at $1,000-$5,000 to the general public. Significant support there comes from volunteer mechanics and partner garages that provide labor as well as from sale of vehicles and from charitable gifts.
Tammie is an excellent Wheels4Hope ambassador. She talks it up wherever she goes and is on track to have three cars donated by May. That would certainly be a blessing for worthy beneficiaries like Tammie.

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