WOONSOCKET – “Thanks mom.”
These were the words from Burrillville veteran Seth Guy as he approached a new-to-him vehicle, a rebuilt Mazda he’d won through a sweepstakes run by Henri’s Auto and New Englanders Helping Our Veterans.
Guy learned that his name had been picked in the Henri’s Heroes raffle for one of three used vehicles given out to service members through the program last week, but it wasn’t until Saturday, Nov. 20 that he drew an envelope to see which car was on the title: a 2002 Buick LeSabre Custom; a 2003 Ford Focus or a 2011 Mazda cx3.
His mother, Harrisville resident Jill Guy, had seen the sweepstake advertised and entered Seth’s name.
“I was at work and I got a call,” Guy, a 33-year-old Army veteran, told NRI NOW. “It couldn’t have happened at a better time, to be honest.”
Guy joined Pawtucket-based Navy veteran Bill Ashton and Air Force veteran Richard Mandeville from Dartmouth, Mass. in pulling the titles.
The vehicles were donated to the program and repaired at Henri’s Auto in Woonsocket.
“We did a lot of work to these cars,” said Henri’s co-owner Dave Lambert, adding that to qualify for the raffle, veterans had to meet certain criteria and demonstrate the need for transportation.
And while the event was held at the city-based auto repair shop, it was the generosity of many Burrillville residents that made much of it possible.
The giveaway, now in its third year, came about through a collaboration between Jim Collins, president of NEHOV, and William Gately, co-owner of Henri’s, both Burrillville residents. Burrillville Motors towed the vehicles to the shop. New England Farms provided gas cards and cash so that all three veterans could register their vehicles.
And several cars were donated by Burrillville families.
“We’re not usually very lucky, so I never expected this,” Jill Guy said, noting that the day before she entered her son Seth’s name in the drawing, he called her to say he was using duck tape on his old car so it would pass inspection.
On Saturday, locals gathered at the Woonsocket repair shop for an event with food, raffles and the drawing of titles among the three winners.
“It’s just a way to make a little extra to give back to other veterans,” Gately said of the raffles, held to raise money for NEHOV.
Collins said that NEHOV aims to help former service members who don’t qualify for other veterans’ programs due to income or other criteria.
“I’m out every day helping veterans that fall between the cracks,” said Collins, noting that many of the recipients are referred to him from organizations such as Veterans Inc. In December, he noted, NEHOV will hold a clothing drive in Providence in conjunction with Operation Stand Down.
“We kind of all work together,” he said.
The needs, Collins said, are real. In some cases, NEHOV is paying for storage sheds for veterans who don’t have a place to live.
“We have some of these guys that sleep under bridges,” Collins said. “They don’t mind, but we want to at least help them store their things.”
The donated cars were repaired through volunteer labor from Henri’s staff.
“Even if someone donates a car that is junk, we can sell it to a scrapyard to fund the other repairs,” Collins said, noting that the group has already received two more cars for their next raffle.
Many others businesses and organizations helped to make the giveaway possible. City-based ON Radio took out advertising to alert local veterans of the opportunity. NAPA Auto Parts donated thousands in parts to fix the vehicles, and Fazzini’s Restaurant donated pasta to serve Saturday’s guests. Raffle items for all 36 prizes were donated, and Sheila Turcotte, the grandmother of fallen soldier Matthew Turcotte, of North Smithfield, donated money in the name of the late Army veteran.
“Anything to help people who served our country is a great thing,” said John Ansay from NAPA. “You have to give back. Freedom isn’t free.”
Woonsocket Mayor Lisa Baldelli-Hunt attended the ceremony, noting that she was impressed by the level of work and collaboration it took to make it all happen.
“This is outstanding to me,” Baldelli-Hunt said. “You can’t even buy a car right now, and if you do, it’s overpriced. People need transportation.”
“This is all just by people who want to do good by our veterans,” Baldelli-Hunt said. “This is just proof that when we come together as human beings, we can make a difference in people’s lives. Hopefully this will spark others to think that this was a wonderful thing, and want to contribute themselves.”
Gately thanked the service members as he handed them the titles.
“If it wasn’t for what you’ve done, we wouldn’t be here today,” he said.