INDIAN TRAIL – Caliber Collision and All-State Insurance gave Heather Sides the keys to a Honda CRV on June 26 in what was another huge step for an Army veteran that has overcome many hurdles – including living in a homeless shelter and giving up her service dog – since leaving the military.
As part of the National Auto Body Council’s Recycled Rides program, Caliber, All-State and their industry partners provided Sides with a new vehicle after her old truck died several months ago.
Being without a vehicle meant Sides had to use public transportation to get to work as a manager trainee at McDonalds and it made everyday living difficult. It also meant that Sides had to put her plans to take college classes on the backburner.
“This is exciting and this is a new chapter in my life,” Sides said.
And the previous few chapters have all had happy endings, including being reunited with Nana, her service dog and best friend.
But some of the chapters in Sides’ life post-military have been downright
Sides enlisted in the Army while still in high school. She served for seven years, which included overseas tours in Kuwait (2012-13) and El Salvador (2010). But when Sides returned home, she found it difficult to find a good paying job. The bills then began to mount and Sides soon found herself homeless and living in a shelter.
That is when she had to send Nana to a family near Myrtle Beach, S.C. that is affiliated with Guardian Angels for Soldier’s Pets.
“She puts a smile on my face,” Sides said of Nana. “She is always there for me. She is my best friend. She is my family. She is like my child.”
That love pushed Sides to get her life back on track, and get Nana back.
Sides worked with Goodwill Industries of the Southern Piedmont GoodJobs program and that gave her the tools necessary to find a good paying job. With a steady paycheck, Sides found stable housing and she was able to get Nana back.
“I was separated from her for about a year,” Sides said. “I knew I was going to get her back. I did what I had to do. I never saw Nana when we were separated but they sent me pictures. They did a good job of taking care of her. I missed her a lot.”
But then her truck saw its last mile. Everyday living, like getting to work, going to the store and getting her German shepherd to the vet, was difficult. Goodwill nominated Sides for a Recycled Rides vehicle, and that’s when the employees at Caliber went to work.
All-State provided the Honda CRV, which was a recovered stolen vehicle, and four team members at the Indian Trail Caliber location then donated over 100 man-hours to bring the car back to life.
“This will help me with my job,” Sides said. “I can get more hours and I will have more energy for my customers. I don’t have to walk to the laundromat any more. I don’t have to walk my clothes over there. It was very hard not having a car.”
Nana, however, didn’t leave Indian Trail empty-handed. As with all donated Recycled Rides, there is something in the trunk for all recipients. The back of Side’s vehicle was loaded with dog treats and toys for Nana. Sides also got some much-needed household items, too.
“This is home now and this is the first stable situation I have had, ever,” Sides said. “Before that, it was people’s couches. I am now functioning by myself and paying my bills.”
Caliber is the largest independent collision repair company in the country with more than 570 locations in 18 states and the District of Columbia.
Since its inception in 2007, the National Auto Body Council has refurbished and donated more than 1,000 vehicles. Caliber and its industry partners have teamed up to donate more than 200 vehicles valued at over $2.5 million.