The six-day teacher walkout was hard on Elisha Smarik of Ahwatukee.
Shut out from two of the three jobs she works to support daughters Bella, Alison and Grace – ages 7, 10 and 13, respectively – she only had the part-time night job she works at the Ahwatukee Frys home department.
But when she returned on Friday to her other other two jobs as a crossing guard and cafeteria manager at Monte Vista Elementary School, Smarik got the surprise of her life – thanks to a thoughtful coworker/mom and some other parents at the school who, as one noted, showed what makes Ahwatukee a special place.
To understand the enormity of the surprise, you have to understand the problems that Smarik had with the 1992 Oldsmobile she got shortly before moving here three years ago from North Carolina.
It was a problem almost from the start.
First, a fuel pump went. Over time, another one, followed by two alternators and a starter over time.
And those were just the problems she herself could fix, having learned some car-repair basics growing up in Mississippi and helping her mechanic dad.
“It’s given me more trouble than it was worth,” Smarik said. “I’ve had quite a lot of issues with it, issues I’ve been able to fix myself and bigger issues that I wasn’t necessarily unable to fix, but with three jobs and three kids, there’s not a lot of time. I’ve learned more about mechanics than I probably ever wanted to know.”
Those issues included no air conditioning – which the car hasn’t had she moved here.
Enter Jeani Crosson, one of the Southwest Food Service employees and a Monte Vista parent who works as a cook in Monte Vista’s cafeteria.
Unbeknownst to Smarik, Crosson had decided to help her colleague. She had helped get her and her daughters home a couple times when the car broke down and knew Smarik needed it.
Crosson created a page on gofundme.com, hoping to raise enough money to get Smarik a new used car.
Crosson also told a parent, who told another parent, who told yet another.
And soon a small group of parents that included Andi Baker began talking about what to do.
Baker, a substitute teacher whose two children attend Monte Vista, had only recently gotten to know Smarik.
“She is always extremely good with the kids,” said Baker. “She knows every child.”
No small feat at a school with 750 pupils – the most of any of the 25 schools that comprise Kyrene School District.
Then there was Margaret Pratt, whose mother had recently passed away, leaving a 2002 Toyota Corolla.
Pratt offered to give the car to Smarik.
So, Baker’s mechanic-husband Matt worked on it. A couple of Monte Vista kids, children of yet another parent, helped cleaned it up.
And then came Friday morning.
Smarik tells the story best from there:
“So, Jeani tells me, ‘You need to go outside and look at your car.’ She sounded mad and I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, what happened to my car. I can’t afford to have something happen to my car. On my birthday someone hit her car in the parking lot and I figured someone hit it again.
“I walked outside and she goes a few cars down from where I was parked and I said, ‘Uh, Jeani, my car is this way’ and she said, ‘Just come this way.’
“I walked there and there’s this car with a green bow on it and some parents and Jeani said, ‘These are the keys to your new car.’”
At first, there was confusion.
“I said, ‘What are you talking about?’”
And when it all hit her, Smarik added, “I just started crying and I couldn’t stop crying. The lady who gave it to us couldn’t be there and they showed a video she made for me. There are some cosmetic things inside – trim and stuff – and the parents told me they were using their own money to take care of them and would fix it up as soon as the parts arrived.”
Alison and Bella, who attend Monte Vista, were also dumbfounded when they came out to meet their mom.
“They said, ‘They did what?” Smarik recalled.
The same thing happened when she went to pick up Grace at Altadena Middle School, who had been waiting for her mom on a curb: when she first saw the Corolla pull up, she took a step back, cautious about the strange vehicle.
“I had to take off my cap and sunglasses so she could see it was me,” Smarik said. “Then her first reaction was, ‘Okay, Mom, what happened to your car and whose did you borrow?”
Smarik called her parents in Mississippi.
They cried when they heard the news.
“My dad has only cried four times in his life – when his parents died and when his brothers died,” Smarik explained.
The Olds is still in the Monte Vista parking lot. Smarik isn’t quite sure how to get it back to her apartment complex, given her night job and her daily task of ferrying her daughters home from school.
Eventually, her father plans to come up to Ahwatukee, fix everything that needs fixed and take it to her mom, who owns a cleaning business and doesn’t own a car right now.
Baker, Pratt and the other Monte Vista parents whose generosity has rippled all the way down to Mississippi are happy they could help.
“I think this is a great example of how our community is always ready to help,” said Baker, a four-year Ahwatukee resident. “When people need help, there’s always someone reaching out.”