SARATOGA SPRINGS, N.Y. — The National Auto Body Council (NABC) has been providing vehicles to people in need for 13 years through their Recycled Rides program.
By partnering with insurance agencies and collision industry experts across the country, they are able to help improve people’s lives by providing a much-needed source of transportation. This week, a local veteran was the latest recipient of a Recycled Ride.
Caliber Collision in Saratoga partnered with GEICO Insurance to prepare a vehicle for Specialist Charles Clark, who spent four years in the Army and saw combat in Sarajevo from 1996-200, and three years in the National Guard. Clark sustained injuries resulting in disability during his service, and is raising two children as a single father.
To date, the Caliber Collision franchise has donated over 500 vehicles for Recycled Ride events, including two in the past three years out of the Saratoga Springs location. Vehicles for Recycled Rides are selected by the insurance companies working with NABC – in this case, it was GEICO, who regularly partners with Caliber Collision for the program. GEICO chooses vehicles that have been damaged to the point of being considered “a financial total.”
Cars in this condition are not beyond repair, but the cost is prohibitive to the owners and the vehicle is considered “totaled” for insurance purposes.
After paying out all relevant costs to the owner, the vehicle is then brought to a collision repair center to be restored to pre-accident condition. A candidate is then chosen to be the recipient of the repaired vehicle.
“It’s great to help out,” said Mike Zajac, general manager of the Saratoga Springs Caliber Collision. “Our guys will donate all their time for the repairs. These guys, the veterans, have served our country, so it’s great to be able to give back to them. We like to give back to the community that we serve.
“We take as many cars (for Recycled Rides) as we can.”
Clark has been receiving services from Veterans and Community Housing Coalition (VCHC) for four years, and it was chief operating officer Leigha Rosenberger who submitted an application on Clark’s behalf to receive a car.
“When Caliber reached out to me, saying they had a vehicle to give, I was so pleased to write an application for Charles,” she recalled. “There couldn’t be a more hardworking, deserving man.”
“This is going to be a really great help to him,” said Claire Hodges, VCHC’s permanent housing case manager and Clark’s case manager since last Dec.
Clark was very grateful for all the help he received through VCHC.
“The VCHC has done more than just help me with housing,” he commented. “They’ve helped with my kids, they’ve supported me with everything through a very tough time in my life. Every time I’ve needed help, they’ve been there for me.”
Despite his soft-spoken and mild demeaner, it was easy to see that Clark was both excited and humbled by being a Recycled Rides recipient. His old car was falling apart and in bad need of repairs he simply couldn’t afford.
“I had surgery yesterday, and I have a twilight medication for sleeping, but I’ve been up since 3:30 this morning,” Clark said. “I woke up and was like, ‘car!’ This is a huge relief.”
Clark recalled the moment he found out he had been chosen to get a Recycled Rides vehicle. Out of the blue, he got a phone call from a GEICO representative.
“I answered the phone, and the guy said, ‘hi, this is Kris from GEICO.’ I told him, ‘Sorry, I have insurance through USAA, and I get a much better deal from them.’ I was about to hang up,” Clark described. “But he said, ‘no wait, don’t hang up! This isn’t one of those calls – it’s a good call!’ So I said, ‘okay, you have two minutes – what do you want to tell me?’
“And he said, ‘we’re going to give you a free car.’ I was so surprised.”
Waiting for his new vehicle to be revealed, Clark talked with Hodges and VCHC director of community relations Michelle Viola-Straight about where his first trips would be.
First things first – Clark was going to take his family to Dunkin’ for coffee. After that, a world of possibilities was open. Clark was looking forward to going to the Botanical Gardens in MA, as part of a trip with VCHC. Then, maybe a trip to the ocean with his kids.
“I can assure you, my children are planning trips as we speak,” he joked.
When the big moment arrived, Clark and his family gathered in the showroom. The technicians who had worked on his car came out to introduce themselves. Many thanked him for his service. Then, out of the garage came a brown 2014 Nissan Maxima adorned with a green bow.
Clark was also presented with a $250 Visa gift card from Caliber Collision.
“I absolutely love it,” Clark said, trying to hold back tears. “I’m overwhelmed, and in shock. This kind of thing means the world to me.”
After taking a few minutes to familiarize himself with his new vehicle, the license plates were put on. The technicians thanked Clark again and told him to enjoy his new car before heading back to work. Clark and his family got in – including Hodges, who Clark insisted on coming along – and it was off to Dunkin’ for coffee.