BRATTLEBORO — A local woman walked away from 2015 with a brand new car when she was featured on "The Meredith Vieira Show," but, more importantly, she left with a life lesson.
Shela Linton, 37 of Brattleboro, had been without a car for about eight months until the Meredith Vieira show scouted her out to present her with a 2015 Ford Edge from Autotrader. Linton is a full-time field organizer at the Vermont Worker Center, but she wears many other hats in life as a single mother and advocate for social justice. She is a founder and volunteer at the Roots Social Justice Center, which is a working office collective where each person at the center has a business related to social justice. The Center provides a physically and financially accessible space to support and bring together communities working for social justice.
"My message is to thank the community, my Root Collective for starting the GoFundMe page and to tell people that it is okay to ask for help, the community should come together," said Linton.
Linton did not earn her shiny new car by the wave of a wand, but instead through help and support of friends, community members and the Meredith Vieira show that saw her need. March of 2015, Linton's car broke down and she began to walk to work or ask people for rides. Despite her pleasure in "going green," by walking or carpooling, she notes that that lifestyle "was not convenient" as a single mother of two (Iresha Fisher, 21 and Zenia Muhammad, 13) and with her 40 to 60 hour work week. A need for a like-new car was deemed necessary by Linton's co-worker, Angela Berkfield, who is director, consultant and advocate at ACT for Social, which is based in the Roots Social Justice Center. Berkfield and friends started a GoFundMe page for Linton, but they found that the site brought in less donations than expected.
"I said to myself, 'okay by the end of the year, I need to just take whatever I got and do what I need to do with it because I can not go through another winter without a vehicle,'" said Linton. "And then the show came up, so it was perfect timing."
During the week of Thanksgiving, the Meredith Vieira show Facebook messaged and emailed her to ask if she would be interested in making an appearance on the show. The initial email suggested that they wanted her to broadly discuss her social justice work. However, the focus of the segment shifted several times. Next they informed her that the show would be about women and then it changed to single mothers. Linton said she was a bit skeptical of why it was continually tweaked, but said she was ultimately open to discuss her role as a single mother in the Brattleboro community.
"During the holidays, it's better to give than to receive, but for one single mom from Vermont, this is a tradition that continues all year round," said Vieira during the opening of her show's segment. "So today we're giving back to her, and she has no idea that we're about to give her one of the biggest surprises in this show's history." On December 16, 2015 Linton went to the New York City studio with her two daughters and Berkfield.
Berkfield kept the secret of the surprise for about a month. The day of the show Linton was shocked and overjoyed when Vieira gifted her a 2015 Ford Edge that was provided by Autotrader. The segment aired on Dec. 18 and she was given the vehicle the same day.
"Not only did I get the car, but I didn't have to worry about any additional expenses," said Linton. Autotrader sent her a check to cover costs such as the sales tax, title and registration.
Since owning the vehicle, Linton says that her day-to-day work is much more convenient.
"It's drastically changed my life. I just came back from the grocery store; I am going to do laundry in a few hours; I picked-up four of my children's friends last night and was able to bring them to the movies and home and be the parent that could do that," said Linton. "It's awesome, I love having all the girls in my car and jamming-out."
However, Linton would like to help those beyond her family and friend circle. She said she has considered placing a sign on her car to let people know that she will provide transportation.
"I didn't get this car just because of me, I got this car because of the support that I have from the community and because of the work that I am doing," said Linton. "We're only as good as those who recognize the work that we're doing."
Linton is grateful for the car but explained that asking for help and receiving assistance has been a difficult and humbling time in her life. She asked to share a story about one of her friends from high school who started a GoFundMe page to purchase a vehicle as well. Her friend had been ridiculed by individuals over social media because she started the fund. Linton said she was disgusted with how people treated her friend.
"I would not be here today, if I did not ask for help – period," said Linton with a tear welling up in her eyes. "And that's what I want people to walk away with– it's okay to be in need and it's okay to ask for help."
She added that she does not play the battle of story of her life, but instead hopes that she can just be a source of hope and can continue to fight the good fight.
"I am now able to give back to so many people just because of this one gift and I know others will and have done the same thing in their lives," she said.