Zionsville business delivers special Christmas gift
“My hands were so cold that the biometric scanner at work didn’t take my fingerprint,” recalled Shellie Gaston of a bitter, winter day at work. As a single mother of five children under 12 years of age , Gaston begins her work day at 3 a.m. as a certified EMT, often working 12-hour shifts and, until recently, walking almost thirty blocks twice a day, kids in tow, to daycare so that she could work and go to school.
But, today, because of a special gift by Zionsville’s Pearson’s Automotive, in partnership with the Julian Center, Gaston no longer has to endure those icy, early morning walks. Through the Wheels to Recovery Project, spearheaded by Rich Pedigo, manager of Performance Collision Center at Pearson Automotive, 10650 N. Michigan Rd., Gaston was given a minivan filled with Christmas presents for her family on Dec. 12.
“It was the greatest thing,” Pedigo said of the project. “It started growing, and the community wanted to get involved.”
What started as an idea in February grew to be a reality supported by 18 local organizations which provided gifts, oil changes, insurance and even haircuts and a family photo session. These partners and Pearson employees also made monetary donations for gifts.
“Everyone from the dealership pitched in, and then we went shopping as a group,” Pedigo said.
The van was refurbished and, days before the car was to be unveiled, nine workers together put on the finishing touches.
“We are happy we were able to use what we do everyday – fix cars – to do something for the greater good and help someone in need,” Pedigo said.
The cycle of abuse
Gaston needed the van desperately but also needed to change her life, a life that began with abuse that continued through adulthood.
“As far back as I can remember, I didn’t live with peace,” Gaston said. “My parents fought all the time.”
Fighting became a regular part of her life, first with an abusive stepfather and later in her personal relationships.
“I got pregnant at 14 and that’s when he (her boyfriend) started beating on me,” she said. “He was jealous of the baby. I thought it was normal.”
Normal it was not. He beat her so hard her eyes would swell shut. The abuse continued and, years later, her children would hide under their beds in fear. She tried to leave.
“When people tell you that you’re nothing, and you don’t love yourself, and this person is the only one who says he loves you, it’s hard to get out,” she said. “I left so many times but went back.”
Unfortunately, Gaston’s story is not uncommon for people who grow up in abusive homes. To cope with the beatings, she escaped to drugs, and life spiraled down from there.
“I hit rock bottom,” Gaston admitted. “My kids were removed. I was homeless and on the streets. Horrible things happen to women on the streets. I can’t tell you how many times I was beaten and raped.”
Despite the dire circumstances, Gaston’s children were protected and under the care of her mother, Tammi, with whom she is eternally grateful.
“I”m grateful to my mom since she took the kids and they didn’t get lost in the system,” Gaston said.
Turning point – Julian Center
Her mother again came to the rescue by providing information to her about the Julian Center after a severe beating left Gaston hospitalized. After being released, she made the decision to give it a try and admits now, “If it wouldn’t have been for the Julian Center, I would probably be dead today. Homeless drug addicts don’t make it.”
The Julian Center provides services victims need to recover and build an abuse-free life. It also helps abuse victions break the cycle of violence from generation to generation, according to its executive director Melissa Pershing, JD.
Pershing said Gaston had accomplished that goal.
“Shellie has overcome such horrendous odds – addiction, homelessness, pregnant at 14, losing her children, rape and domestic abuse – and showed such determination to change her life so she could get her kids back and make sure they would never go through what she had endured,” Gaston said.
A new life
Gaston’s life has changed dramatically since arriving at the Julian Center.
“I think different, feel different about myself, I have a home, I have my children,” Gaston said tearfully. “I’ve changed my life. I love my life.”
She is thankful for the support of the Julian Center and for Pearson Automotive’s special Christmas gift that has made an enormous impact on her daily life.
“I am so grateful to everyone. That van has helped me more than Pearson will ever know and the Julian Center saved my life. And God. I don’t want to leave God out,” Gaston said. “It’s hard for me to relive what happened, but if I can help a young lady with my story, even one, it’s a blessing.”