Blake Barnes, a Central A&M student from Moweaqua, won a used vehicle in early September that he says will help him take part in the new Shelby County CEO program.
Barnes is part of the first CEO class, a program that encourages entrepreneurship. An accident ruined his ability to participate in the class. Living in Moweaqua also limits his employment options. Right now he works at the golf course for a limited number of hours.
The vehicle will give him the chance to make site visits and journeys with the CEO program without having to rely on people who work in the area, he said.
The minivan's size will also give him room to store his fishing equipment, he said, particularly the pole that was broken in the crash.
The vehicle giveaway started in Effingham in 2012, when Mark Probst of Probst Auto Body heard about the nationwide program from his consulting firm.
At first it was "just another project on the list," he said, until they made the first award.
The effect of awarding the vehicle to a deserving person filled him with joy and covered him with goosebumps, encouraging him to continue. In 2014, he was joined by Phil Webster of Teutopolis Motor Sales.
The vehicles are used, often donated, and fully reconditioned, said Webster. That commonly includes work on the shocks and struts, he said, beyond the repairs needed.
He also found the choices difficult.
"I don't think I slept for three nights last year" while agonizing over the decisions, he said.
In 2016 the group reached its current complement when Cody Willenborg of CW Motorsports joined on.
A key question is "what will this do for them," Willenborg said, which helps them sort through the 25 or more applicants they have to choose from.
Despite the finals system, repeat reconsideration and the telephone calls made ahead of time, sometimes they don't know the winner until the moment of the announcement, Willenborg said.
The program has given away 13 vehicles to date.
Anna Kiley, of the Shelby County CEO program, wrote in her letter nominating Barnes:
"Blake Barnes is both confident and humble. He speaks with clarity about his dream to own and operate a computer repair business. He works faithfully at the Moweaqua Golf Course and gives his money to offset family expenses.
"More impressively, Blake has a sense of civic responsibility. Just to be helpful, Blake spends time every Wednesday and Sunday at First Christian Church helping to prepare the youth programs. Blake takes out the trash, sets up tables and materials, sell snacks, sweeps and cleans. This enables the program to continue with excellence.
"We are indebted to Blake for his participation in the $10,000 Monsanto Tech grant for the Central A&M library. Blake is a committed volunteer at the library, where he helps the new librarian maximize the perks and benefits of the grant. His help during this time of transition positively affects each and every student who uses the library.
Brooke Daiber, of Breeze, a senior at St. Louis University, was the other recipient during the giveaway.
Daiber studies criminal justice, and intends to join the FBI. With graduation looming, the lack of a car prevented her from pursuing internships and employment off-campus.
That was most telling as the FBI Collegiate Hiring Center is in downtown St. Louis, well outside regular reach, she said.
She did have one glitch when she got into the black Chevrolet Malibu. Used to shifting on the steering column, she instead sent the windshield wipers into a panic.
"Awesome stuff like this doesn't happen to me. Something always goes wrong" said Daiber.
Living without a vehicle was trying for Judy Brown, who was given a car by Wheels to Prosper in 2014. The program gave out two more vehicles this year.
Brown went through three rounds of chemotherapy that completely exhausted her finances. When her van broke down she was left to rely on friends and associates to help her make it to treatment in Champaign.
This was possible because of the supportive nature of rural Illinois, she said, but was still difficult. She relied on rides, vehicles with bad tires, loaners and always knowing she would be stranded.
Within six weeks of getting the car she was employed, and within two months she had added a full-time job.
The car allowed her to make money and expand her options, including a job in Clarksville, Tennessee.
She was able to move there, improving her employment and giving her daughter educational options not available here.
"I'm able to visit my parents more now than when I was in Effingham or Sigel," she said, as the four-hour trip is simpler with her own wheels.
It's also allowed her to make the seemingly unimportant options of visiting her son at school in Carbondale, taking her daughter to activities and other trips she was unable to before, she said.
Source: Effingham Daily News, http://bit.ly/2xofKp4
Information from: Effingham Daily News, http://www.effinghamdailynews.com
This is an AP-Illinois Exchange story offered by the Effingham Daily News.