- Associated Press - Saturday, May 20, 2017

CALEDONIA, Miss. (AP) - Melonie Weeks said she didn’t cry, but came close.

Weeks, a senior at Caledonia High School, learned she received a free car from Allen Jones Used Cars in Steens during a Monday morning awards ceremony at the school. Later in the afternoon, she arrived at the dealership to pick up her new ride.

“I was extremely shocked to be able to receive this car,” she said. “It’s a great, great opportunity, and I love that Mr. Allen does this for us seniors who aren’t lucky enough to be able to have parents who can buy or afford to get us a car.”

Allen Jones, owner of the car lot, has given a Caledonia High School senior a car most years since 2008, and Weeks is the seventh senior to receive one. She got a 2009 Toyota Camry worth about $12,000.

Jones said only a handful of students from his graduating high school class had cars—something he said has likely inverted now. But, he said having a car as a high school senior taught him the value of having transportation available.

“When I graduated high school from Caledonia back in ‘69, there were probably 45 in our class,” he said. “Four or five of us probably had cars and it wasn’t fancy cars then — just rides. I had an old model Studebaker that smoked real bad, but I was happy to have it.

“That’s all I had even when I got married,” Jones added. “But I know what an opportunity it is to have something you don’t have to worry about going to college.”

Weeks will work at Timberlake Ministries in Millport, Alabama, over the summer, so she said the car will be especially helpful.

Then she’ll attend East Mississippi Community College, planning to one day transfer to the Mississippi University for Women to pursue a career in teaching special education.

“It was a blessing,” she said. “It was definitely a blessing to receive (the car).”

Jennifer Weeks, Melonie’s mother, agreed with her. She said she was very thankful for her daughter to have won the car.

“It excites me very much,” Jennifer said. “It excites me very much that she’s given such an opportunity from Allen to do this. It helps her to achieve her goals for her schooling that she’s wanting to go into.”

The program

Shannon Bowen, Jones‘ daughter, said the giveaway program is geared toward seniors whose families might not be able to afford a car. In order to qualify, seniors have to be a part of a family with less than $60,000 total income. Caledonia High School verifies income information and coordinates with the dealership on the giveaway.

Seniors who qualify and decide to apply for the car have to write an essay about how transportation would be important for them in college, Bowen said. A committee of dealership representatives, the school principal and guidance counselor judge the essays.

Once they’ve graduated, seniors have to go to a four-year college — even if after first attending junior college — and maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average. Bowen said they get the deed to the car after finishing college.

James, speaking of inspiration for the giveaway, pointed to a Bible lesson about the rich man and Lazarus.

“The rich man had the opportunity to help Lazarus and he didn’t,” he said. “I didn’t want to be in that position. Any time I can help someone that’s not as well off as I am and I can help them with a blessing, I feel like I’m blessed to do it.”

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