CLEVELAND (WJW)– When Amanda Berry was a little girl, she spent a lot of time at auto shows. It wasn’t because she loved cars, but because she loved spending time with her grandfather, a man she lovingly referred to as “Papaw.”
She was 8 or 9 years old when he came home with a Monte Carlo SS. It wasn’t new, but it was a 1986 model, which is the year Amanda was born. Amanda instantly fell in love with the car and her grandfather promised he’d fix it up and give it to her when she turned 16.
Of course, that never happened. Amanda was kidnapped a day shy of her 16th birthday.
Through her decade of darkness, Amanda used the memories with her family to keep her spirits up. She knew she had to keep fighting, so she could eventually return home to their love.
When she finally regained freedom on May 6, 2013, the world was much different than the one she last knew. Her mother was gone, she was a mother herself, and though everything had changed, Amanda herself felt frozen in time.
That's why there was nothing better than learning her papaw was alive and well in Tennessee. Even better, he'd kept her Monte Carlo for her all those years, saying he knew she'd be back.
After about a year into precious family time, memories and reunions, Amanda's grandfather was diagnosed with dementia. It wasn't long before he forgot names and faces, and later passed away.
Through the heartbreak, Amanda knew she had to find a way to get the Monte Carlo back home. With the help of her best friend, she was able to transport the car to Cleveland. It wasn't in the best condition, and certainly not driveable. That's where the students of Max S. Hayes High School in Cleveland come into play.
Greg Boykin is the auto body teacher at the vocational high school and learned about Amanda's story. He and his students agreed to refurbish the Monte Carlo and make it as good as new.
Half a dozen sponsors stepped up to make the project possible. Representatives from Sherwin Williams, Safeline Auto Glass, Axelrod Collision Center, Meguiar's, Dollar Bank and Evercoat were on hand as Amanda stopped by the classroom to check out the progress.
"I know it's a big job, so I just wanted you to know a little bit about my papaw and why this car means so much," Amanda told the group.
"When I got home, one of the first things I asked (my grandfather) was, 'Do you still have my car?' He said, 'I didn't sell it. It's right here waiting for you.' So all those years he kept it for me and he believed in me. That's why it's even more special now," she said. "You're bringing it back to life and we're keeping papaw's memory alive, so thank you so much."
"We're going to strip the whole car," Boykin said. "We have to replace the floorboards too. There's a couple of patches on the back on both sides we have to replace, but overall the body of the car is solid."
"A lot of my kids knew your story, and were really happy to get to work on this project for you," he told Amanda.
Each student took time to explain their role in the process. "Some people take off the paint, other people do the sanding," student Angel Garcia said. "We get tasks assigned to us so the car can get done faster."
The teens also had a chance to talk to Amanda and tell her how she inspires them.
"Did you ever get to ride in the car with your grandpa?" one student asked.
"I did! Actually one time we were driving it and it overheated! We were stranded on the side of the road. He had to wait until someone pulled over and gave us water for the radiator!"
Amanda smiled as she shared precious memories with the students and thanked them for making her childhood dream come true.
"I know, because of you, one day I'll be able to start (the Monte Carlo) up and it's going to sound just like it did when papaw started it up," Amanda said. "It's a reminder to me of why I'm here and everybody who fought for me those 10 years. So again thank you so much for helping and realize how special this is to me."