Andrew Dys

Once homeless Rock Hill man, who now works with the needy, given his own wheels

For so many years battling life on Rock Hill’s streets, Harry Jennings walked. Or maybe in flush times he rode a bicycle. On wondrous days he caught a ride. On Wednesday, this Rock Hill man who started out as a client at Renew Our Community center and now works there helping others, got his own ride.

A car that was once was broken - just like him.

A car repaired - just like him.

“Never in a million years did I ever think this would happen for me,” said Jennings, now a supervisor at ROC, which helps the indigent and homeless. “My mouth dropped open. Thought it was a joke. Two feet used to get me where I needed to go. I am so grateful.”

Jennings’ 2011 Nissan Altima was given to him through “Recycled Rides,” a program of the Rock Hill franchise of Caliber Collision working with State Farm insurance and other companies. The car was donated to Caliber, then mechanics who have scarred knuckles and work shirts with their names over their hearts did all the work to unbend the fender bender and make the car as close to new as possible.

Every one of the the shop workers helped for free on their own time. Longtime Caliber painter John Watts pointed at the car and Jennings next to it. Jennings’ smile was as wide as the car hood. So was Watts’ smile.

“That’s what it’s all about,” Watts said. “Any time you can give back to somebody, help them out as they help others out, we are proud to do it.”

These body shop workers are a tough blue-collar bunch. Their work shirts are covered with paint splatters and fiberglass dust and grease lines. They work on their feet all day on concrete. Still, Watts, along with Dawton Amerson, Eddie Griffin, Robbie Hammond, Todd Moore, Alex Lopez, Mike Ferrell, Kevin Kimbrell, Todd Sinclair and James Craig all pitched in.

The white paint gleamed like a new bride’s eyes.

“You get a chance to help someone in this life, you do it,” Craig said.

Brandon Hawkins, director of operations for Caliber Collision, said the company has helped more than 160 people in 17 states with “Recycled Rides” as a community service. Hawkins contacted Bruce McKagan, executive director at ROC, during the summer and told him of the program. McKagan said he had the perfect fit.

Harry Jennings. Four years a ROC client, now four years a ROC worker.

“Harry Jennings has worked for everything he has now in his life,” McKagan said. “He came to us a client, he battled substance abuse, and he is now part of the management team. Years he has worked to get here. He exemplifies hard work and success.”

Jennings, 60, runs a ROC crew that cleans stream beds and other public works projects. He helped with interior construction of the ROC building in the same rooms where he once sat hoping for help to get off the streets. Now he supervises clients who are no different than he used to be.

Jennings thanked everyone -- the office workers, the shop workers, the managers, everybody -- at Caliber’s Anderson Road shop Wednesday for the car. The . He thanked the people who clean the place and empty the garbage bins.

Then he got in the driver’s seat of his car. He was handed the keys.

“Never would have believed it,” Jennings said.

The car cranked right up.