CLEARWATER — Ever since her little Toyota's engine blew up three years ago, Marien Elizabeth has had to depend on others for transportation — to work, to class, virtually everywhere.
That's because the single mother of four Tuesday received her own wheels — a sparkling clean 1995 Ford Taurus SE with a greeting card from the previous owner on the leather driver's seat.
As usual Tuesday, Elizabeth, 45, of Clearwater had strolled out to the parking lot after a day of work at St. Petersburg College to catch a ride home.
"I don't think I'll be able to give you a ride home today," fellow student Laura Delgado said.
Then, nodding to the car parked next to them, she tossed Elizabeth a set of keys.
"That's because you're going to drive yourself home."
"What?" Elizabeth said. "Get out of here. You've got to be kidding. I don't know what to say."
The two hugged and choked back tears as Delgado told her friend, "I'm going to miss driving you home everyday."
The surprise was followed by applause from fellow students and co-workers who emerged from hiding in a nearby building.
The Ford's previous owner, who asked to remain anonymous, said she and her husband were motivated by a recent St. Petersburg Times story describing Elizabeth's rise from poverty and hardship to receive a bachelor's degree in international business from St. Petersburg College.
A worthy person
The donor said she had prayed about what to do with the car and knew where it needed to go after seeing the story. She said Elizabeth, who has children ages 11 to 21, "seems like such a worthy person."
The donor's husband has disabilities that prevented him from getting in and out of the Taurus, so they bought a sport utility vehicle and planned to give their well-kept, well-loved Taurus to someone special.
That someone is Elizabeth, who will soon head to New Jersey, where she will start a new life as a master's candidate at the Whitehead School of Diplomacy and International Relations at Seton Hall University. Her career goal is to one day to work at the United Nations, where she hopes to make a difference in the lives of women and children.
Sharon Coil, director of the college's Women on the Way (WOW) program, said that having a dependable car would give the family's sole breadwinner a much-needed boost.
WOW has supported Elizabeth by helping her obtain scholarships so she could focus on school. She returned the favor by serving as president of the WOW campus club, as treasurer of the Student Government Association and as a chairwoman for various committees to benefit the campus and community.
"It will take so much stress off her," Coil said. "Think of the relief it will provide."
Looking ahead to graduate school, Elizabeth had said she wouldn't know how to get around in a new and unfamiliar place — or even drop off the U-Haul trailer, for that matter — without a car.
"I thought it was going to work itself out somehow and it did," she said. "That's having faith."
One of the first things she noticed was the trailer hitch on the back. "It's perfect. Now I can haul all my stuff," she said.
With that, she and the donor headed to the state Department of Motor Vehicles to arrange for a tag transfer. We're guessing they had a lot to talk about.
Terri Bryce Reeves can be reached at email@example.com.