The 12th Day of Christmas
One vets' gift of independence
On the 12th day of Christmas: “I experienced tears of joy…I received the gift of independence…” says Philicia Burton, a 23-year-old single mom and Afghanistan veteran.
As she lifted her gift’s cover and removed a huge green bow, Philicia was trembling. She had an idea of what was coming; however, she could not hold back her tears, knowing it would help lift a huge burden. Underneath, a 2007 Chevy Impala was full of Christmas gifts for her and her five-year-old daughter.
“I now have the freedom to take my daughter, Ezyiah, to dance class and school activities without having to take three to four buses each time” says Philicia. “I can drive back and forth to work without having to depend on public transportation or my mom picking me up each time.” She added, “I had no idea how much a car would help me spend more time with my daughter and mom.”
One year after graduating from a Tampa, FL high school, Philicia got married and joined the Army. She proudly served two years in the Army, spending one year in Afghanistan as a Convoy Security Driver and Gunmen.
Philicia’s responsibility was to lead and protect the lives of soldiers and valuable military trucks as they traveled through dangerous Afghanistan terrain. During her service, Philicia’s mom took care of her daughter.
While she was on leave in US, Philicia’s husband suddenly handed her divorce papers and gave her full custody of their daughter, Ezyiah. As the sole provider for her daughter, Philicia honorably discharged from the Army.
After her ex-husband broke his agreement to pay car payments, Philicia’s car was repossessed. She was devastated but did not lose hope.
Philicia did not want to depend on others for financial support, so she quickly found a job and a new place for her and her daughter to live. She relied solely on public transportation to get to work and take her daughter to school. Fortunately, Philicia could rely on her mother to take care of Ezyiah while she worked late shifts and to pick her up from work when there was no bus service.
She did this for about one year until she learned about the Wheels of Success – Vehicles for Veterans program started by Gregory Griffiths, a State Farm Auto Estimator in 2009.
“Being an Air Force Veteran myself, I felt compelled to provide the resources within my reach to help my fellow Veterans maintain a quality of life during a difficult time in their lives,” said Gregory. “This car will give Philicia the freedom to move around much easier and live a more productive life.”
This is a “Pay it Forward program”, says Susan Jacobs, founder and CEO of Wheels of Success. Based on their income, veterans in the program pay a low monthly fee for a one-year period. The fee veterans pay help the program repair and obtain cars for other veterans. Veterans are also required to volunteer 36 hours annually with Wheels of Success or another community organization.
In the past five years, State Farm has donated 25 vehicles to the Wheels of Success Vehicles for Veterans and its Build- A-Car program. Since 2003, Wheels of Success has provided over 622 vehicles and 568 car-related services to Tampa Bay area families.
The organization offers a full range of transportation solutions, including vehicle replacement, car repairs, licensing and car payment assistance to low and moderate income working families.
“What a perfect gift for Christmas; the gift of independence and the ability to prosper in 2015,” shared State Farm agent, Dick Martin.
Based on a “wish list” provided by Philicia and her daughter, twelve State Farm agents surprised the Veteran with donated toys and gifts to fill the entire back seat of the car.
“My daughter is going to be extremely happy to see gifts under the Christmas tree. We had no gifts until today,” said Philicia. “Santa has arrived early this year at our home. I’m very grateful and appreciative to everyone at State Farm for donating the car and gifts. This is a Christmas I will never forget!”
Left to Right: State Farm Agents Elizabeth Lawson, Joyce Coleman, and Herma White, Veteran Philicia Burton, and State Farm Agent Dick Martin Back row (left to right): State Farm Auto Estimator Gregory Griffiths and State Farm Community Specialist Jose Soto