June 5, 2009
Jan Swoope - [email protected]
Danielle Morales clearly remembers her pounding heartbeat during the recent Caledonia High School senior awards banquet.
"My heart was beating so hard it was hurting," she recalls, with a breathless laugh. "I was scared that if I did get called, I would stand up and fall out!" The nervous moment she describes came when Allen Jones, of Allen Jones Used Cars in Caledonia, strode to the podium to announce the graduating senior selected by a panel of staff and faculty to receive the use of a car for college.
When her name was finally revealed as the fortunate student, it took a moment to sink in.
"I had to look around and be sure I wasn''t just imagining it," the 19-year-old admitted.
The innovative auto initiative was devised in 2008 by Jones, a 1969 Caledonia graduate, and his wife, Carolyn, in order to give back to the school and community that have been so important in their own lives. The couple''s three children are also alumni, and they have grandchildren currently attending the alma mater.
"When you get a certain age and are able to give back something, you just want to help out," Jones said, when asked about the car-for-college idea. "This was intended to give somebody transportation during college who might not otherwise have a vehicle. We''re looking for someone who really needs it the most and has the most hope of going on in their education."
Morales, who was a member of the varsity dance team at Caledonia, has been accepted to Mississippi State University and will enroll in a pre-veterinary curriculum.
"First, I''ll go to East Mississippi Community College, then transfer to MSU," she outlined. "The main thing that was scaring me was not having a ride to school and back, so it''s really a big help. The car definitely means a lot, and I''m going to take good care of it."
In accepting the vehicle, Morales agrees to maintain insurance on the vehicle, enroll in at least 12 hours each semester and maintain a minimum 2.0 grade point average. Upon receiving her college diploma, the title of the car is hers, free and clear.
The teen, who enjoys "horseback riding and anything to do with animals," was born in Norfolk, Va. She moved with her family to Columbus when she was 6 years old. At the age of 10, she lost her mother to lung cancer on Mother''s Day.
"After that, a lot of things started changing, and it was hard for us," Morales shares. She currently resides with a supportive family in Caledonia.
"Danielle has worked hard," said high school counselor Candace Sutton. "She has some very attainable goals, and finding transportation was a major success for her. We express deep gratitude to the Joneses for doing this."
Sutton, along with Caledonia High School Principal Mike Putnam, retired counselor Jamie Price, teachers Annette Sellers and Rita Luna, and the Joneses, served on the selection panel that evaluated applications and essays.
Of the generous gift, a thankful Morales said, "I think it''s a really great thing, and I really appreciate everything that they''re doing."
"We just wanted to show Danielle we had faith in her; we wanted to give her a vote of confidence," stated Jones, who plans to offer the vehicle incentive annually. "I came from humble beginnings, and I''m glad to be able to give back. That''s really what we''re supposed to do; if you''ve got the ability to help someone, you need to do it."
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.