When Camille Valencia called Kars4Kids to donate her car, she cried and told our service representative that she didn’t know how she’d do it: donate her car. But after the fact, as our rep put it, “She seems to be very happy she did!!”
Camille had dashed off a note to the customer service rep thanking Kars4Kids for the sensitive handling of a task that was so difficult for this California donor. “Your driver Joaquin was the kindest, loveliest, most professional young man. I don’t know how he did it but he got my sweet most loved car in the world on the truck to transport her back to, I believe he said to San Diego. In any event, I believe I sent ‘Grace’ away in good hands!!”
We wanted to hear more about Grace, so we wrote to Camille, who was happy to oblige, “Did I mention that often when we spoke about Grace, people thought she was a family member? When they found out she was our car … it was difficult for them to understand our (my) attachment!”
We moved beyond email and had a 20-minute conversation. Here’s what Camille had to say:
“We met Grace in 2001, when my daughter Erica was in recovery. She’d gotten a job and was doing really well and we were so very, very excited for her and proud that her recovery was going well. The lady she was working for offered her this little Beretta, she paid $1000 for her and then she had to put another $1000 into her to get her up to speed, to get her working and everything. And that was the beginning of the relationship with that little car. What started it was my daughter’s recovery and getting back on her feet. She was able to get insurance for [Grace], and she was working two jobs and doing so well. It was a lot but it was worth it.”
Because of Erica’s difficulties, her husband and daughter had moved out of their home in Covina, California, to Las Vegas. That meant that Erica was living on her own. And if she wanted to see her young daughter she had no choice but to make the long, round-trip journey, between Covina and Las Vegas, on a regular basis.
From Covina To Las Vegas And Back
“Now mind you,” Camille continued, “Grace was a 1992 Beretta, and she was making little trips back and forth to Las Vegas. And I’m saying, ‘What?? This little car is going back and forth to Las Vegas? Are you kidding me?’
“She was such an amazing little car,” said Camille with a wistful tone, remembering.
Eventually Camille’s daughter Erica moved to Las Vegas, having reconciled with her husband. Grace had made what was seemingly her final trip between the two cities. Then Camille’s son in-law bought Erica another car and they didn’t really need Grace anymore. Camille and her brother Eddie, on the other hand, had no car at the time, so Erica and her husband decided to drive Grace back to California, one last time, to give the car to these two siblings, “And that was the beginning of our relationship with Grace,” said Camille.
Camille and Eddie took Grace to their mechanic, who lived down the street. “He was an angel. He got her working well. At that age, her air conditioning was making icicles of everybody in the car. But I could have raced her at NASCAR. She was awesome. She was such a bomb of a little car. I mean absolutely amazing. We just fell in love with her.”
Grace Was There
“She’d take us to church,” here Camille chokes up, “every week. And no matter what we had to do, where we had to go, Grace was there.”
The way Grace came by her name was like the way the car came into their lives, seemingly out of nowhere, a gift. “When we first got her,” said Camille, “I called her Erica after my daughter. But one day I’m standing in my kitchen, and I’m looking at her sitting in the driveway, and this voice just said, ‘Grace.’
“And I thought, ‘Wow. That is an awesome name!’
“So I called my daughter and I said, ‘Honey, her name’s not Erica anymore. Her name is Grace.’”
Beginning Of The End: A Gas Leak
Camille and Grace were, in a manner of speaking, inseparable. “She took us to the beach and San Diego and everywhere and she was just an awesome little car,” but at some point, Grace began to show her age. “We thought she was going to last forever,” said Camille, “which is kind of ridiculous. But anyway we were getting ready to get her smogged when they found a gas leak.
“Nobody knew where it was coming from, or what was going on. It was amazing to me that nobody knew what the problem was. We had so many people looking at her. But it just became a danger. I would open up the trunk and I could smell the gasoline,” said Camille.
“So I said, ‘Fine,’ and we just let her sit in the carport where she was. And that’s where she stayed.
“But the thing about Grace,” continued Camille, “is that because she had been such a help to my daughter during her recovery, going back and forth to Las Vegas, and ultimately taking her back to her family for good, and then coming to be with us for such a long time, when I think about her, I just didn’t want to let her go,” she said.
“I Was Not Going To Sell Her For Parts.”
“If we had had our own home and a garage, she’d still be in the garage right now. I was not going to sell her for parts. And our mechanic didn’t want to work on her anymore because she was so old,” said Camille.
Now that hurt: that her faithful neighbor and mechanic now refused to work on Grace. But Camille figured that if he wasn’t going to work on Grace, she wasn’t going to find anyone else to do so, either. So Camille parked Grace in the carport and there she stayed. “It was too sad to think of giving her away. It took me nine years to give her up,” said Camille.
At some point, Camille did look into giving the car to PBS (Public Broadcasting System). But the process seemed too complicated, long and drawn out. “Then I saw the advertisements for Kars4Kids, and I thought, ‘Well, you know that would be better, I think. Better to donate her than to make any money off her.’ It wouldn’t have seemed right,” said Camille.
Kars4Kids To The Rescue
So what was it like, donating Grace to Kars4Kids? We’ll let Camille tell you in her own words:
“The process was just amazing. It was just so easy! It was very, very easy. It was pleasant. Very caring. Because as I said at the beginning, Grace was very special, and they just took the ball and ran with it to help me, I think.
“I called on that one day, and already the following morning, Joaquin [Kars4Kids’ local towing partner] called and said, ‘I can be there in 25 minutes,’ and I said, ‘What??’ Camille gives a short laugh.
“And I said, ‘Okay, great!’ and there he was, in 25 minutes.”
Wasn’t That A Little Too Fast??
We wondered out loud: wasn’t that a little too fast after all those years?
“It was meant to be: that kind of way, so fast, after so many years of service. And Joaquin was so nice! My goodness! It was like we were letting a relative take her away,” said Camille. “He was so kind and so caring.”
“If I were an actor and needed to cry on demand,” said Camille, “Grace would make it happen in a heartbeat. Just thinking about her right now—if I think about her anymore I think I might cry. Grace was, golly, such a help to, I guess, the people who owned her previously; then to my daughter; and us.
“In a way, she reunited Erica with her family,” said Camille. “It was a meant-to-be kind of thing. We call it a ‘God shot.’ Because everything lined up, all the dominoes, no problems ever, no overheating on her trips to Vegas, and you know, that’s not an easy drive out there, and she was just such a dear, dear little car.
“Grace Became A Person To Me.”
“But Grace became a person to me! And we had so much fun. Like I said, ‘Man, she could go fast.’ I would take her out and just let her loose and she and I would go driving like, ‘Bam!’
“She was good,” said Camille. “We loved her. And in fact with our new car, you know, they’re all females, and I said to my brother, thinking about how to name her, ‘I don’t know,’ and one of my girls suggested, ‘Angel’ and then somebody said, ‘Why don’t you just call her “Grace?”’
“There are so many things I could say about her,” said Camille. “I just can’t express the gratitude in words. For my daughter, and what it meant to her, and how it helped her. We had Camille working for nine years, a car made in 1992, mind you. And then we had her for another nine years, sitting in the carport from 2010.
“She Was Just An Awesome Little Car.”
“She was so good,” said Camille. “She brought us so much happiness, so much love, so much positivity, it was just amazing. She was just an awesome little car. I will just never forget her. She’s just so beautiful.
“She was just amazing. A miracle, you know? She was just a lovely, lovely little car,” said Camille.
We felt it. We understood that Grace was something special. But Camille wasn’t finished explaining things. She wanted us to understand the serendipity of how the donation process fit into the story of Grace. “It was an amazing thing that it was Kars4Kids, because I had seen the ads, driving down the highway, and heard the commercials on television, but it was just so,” here Camille paused, searching for the words, “Joaquin really just kind of, golly! He was just such an exceptional young man. Because not too many people would take what I said about Grace that seriously. And he was very, very kind, very gracious.
“I felt good. I mean I was crying, I’m crying now, but I felt good about it. It was meant to be that way. And I was so very grateful.”
Asked why she decided to donate, rather than sell Grace, Camille said, “The thing is, people would say you could get money for Grace, because, you know, she had a brand new steering wheel in there, she had brand new tires, and all this stuff, and you could do that, sell a car for parts. But I didn’t want to because she wasn’t that for us. I mean, she was our Grace!”
Yeah. We know. You can’t put a monetary value on a family member, can’t sell your best friend. That’s just not the way it works.
The story of Grace is a story of boundless giving. And Grace will continue to give. Perhaps the proceeds of the donation process will help send an inner city child who has never seen the country, to summer camp, or underwrite some tutoring sessions for a child who is struggling in her studies. We don’t know the end of the story, but we do know that the essence of Grace is out there, continuing to bring positive energy and goodness into this sometimes crazy world in which we live.
Goodness exists. The story of Grace bears witness to that. And we are grateful to have played a part in her never-ending circle of kindness.