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Morrisville State College Automotive Program Celebrates Keys to Work Partnership, Honors Instructor

MORRISVILLE, N.Y.—Lucy and Michael Kessler’s maroon Chrysler PT Cruiser is much more to them than a set of wheels.

It represents the effort and work of many hearts and hands.

The Kessler’s are one of 75 working families who have received a vehicle through the Keys to Work program, a partnership with Morrisville State College, Community Action Partnership (CAP) of Madison County, and Alliance Bank.

CAP helps eligible families obtain the vehicles to secure reliable transportation to work while Morrisville State College provides the facility, technology and student labor to perform repairs on those vehicles. Alliance Bank helps with the financing.

The Kessler’s, of Oneida, N.Y., had a chance to thank all of those who made obtaining their car possible during a celebration held at Morrisville State College lauding the partnership and the college’s 50th vehicle repair for the Keys to Work program.

That number has changed a lot of lives, according to Nancy Verro, of CAP, Keys to Work coordinator. “Car after car, family after family, this has been a very successful collaboration,” she said.

A key to that equation involves Morrisville State College automotive students who make the repairs as part of their classes. In addition to building their technical skills, they’re also helping out the community.

Students in the college’s Collegiate Science and Technology Entry Program (CSTEP) recently learned what that was like. Through a grant, they performed repairs on 10 cars that went to families who lacked reliable transportation.

Juan Castanos, of Bronx, N.Y., an automotive technology bachelor degree major, was among the students who helped with the repairs.

“I’ve been in their shoes,” Castanos said. “When you don’t have economic support or support from people, it’s very hard to get ahead. It felt so right doing this for someone.”

In the college’s automotive programs, students perform hands-on work on a multitude of different cars, but working on a Keys to Work-bound vehicle fuels a different feeling.

“When you work on a demo car, you are learning, but you don’t always see the personal meaning behind it,” Deivy Martinez, of New Rochelle, N.Y., an automotive technology bachelor degree major and CSTEP student, said. “It takes on a different meaning when you see what you are doing is actually going to change someone’s life.”

It’s done just that for Valerie and Dennis Hoover, of Chittenango, N.Y., who received a car through CAP in March.

With two small children ages 1 and 5, the Hoovers didn’t know where to turn when their two vehicles became inoperable and unsafe to drive. They borrowed cars from in-laws, but it kept growing more difficult for Dennis to perform his job as a youth mentoring program case worker which requires a lot of travel.

“To have something reliable to drive now is great,” Dennis Hoover said. “Financially we would not have been able to get a vehicle without this program.”

The initiative has also been a blessing for the Kessler’s, who both work full-time and have a 16-month-old baby.

Their Chevy Lumina, racked up 450,000 miles before calling it quits, forcing them to seek an alternate means of reliable transportation.

Receiving a car has enabled them to live an independent life again and is making it possible for Michael Kessler to perform home and hospital visits that go along with being an associate pastor at the Church of the Rock in Oneida, N.Y.

“Having a vehicle I can safely transport my family in is huge,” Michael Kessler, said.

The Kessler’s are paying forward the kindness they received, giving rides to others who lack reliable transportation.

During the college’s celebration, Mark Ashton, of Plymouth, N.Y., an instructional support associate who heads Morrisville State College’s Keys to Work efforts, was recognized for his dedication to the program.

“I hand over the keys and that may put me in the spotlight,” a humble Ashton said, “but this is not just me—it is the work of many others and an entire program and college.”

The Keys to Work program has reaped rewards for everyone involved.

“It’s been nothing but a blissful journey since we got our car, so thank you to everyone,” Michael Kessler said fighting back tears during his presentation. “You really helped improve the quality of our lives and the people we serve.”

Speaking with gratification to his students, Ashton said, “this is an example that there’s more you can do with cars that really affects lives.”

Morrisville State College sets the world in motion for students. Curriculums are enriched with applied learning and pave the way for opportunity at both the Morrisville and Norwich campuses. An action-oriented, interactive learning lab, the college is a national leader in technology. Visit to experience, Morrisville in motion.