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Teacher, with community support, fills a family’s need

Godwin Heights — Every time second-grader Aria Brown came to school, her teacher, Cassie Atkinson, could see the excitement she had about being there.

“She was happy to be here and she is always excited about learning,” Atkinson said.

But last fall, Atkinson noticed Aria was missing a lot of school, and when she did come, she would often arrive late.

“I decided to reach out and see what was going on,” Atkinson said, adding that she tries to get to know her students and their families. 

Aria’s mom, Alicia Cole, told Atkinson that she had recently moved farther away and that her car was not working, making it difficult for her to get Aria to school. Cole often would ride the city bus to get her daughter to school, which would make them late.

As a stroke of luck, Atkinson’s husband, Towner, is a car mechanic and works for Community Automotive Repair on Fulton Street. But the car turned out to be a total loss, as the engine had failed. 

“I wished in my life, when I needed help, that someone would have done so,” Atkinson said. “I knew she was a single mother, doing the best she could do, and I just wanted to be that person to help.”

Since her husband was a mechanic, Atkinson decided to see if the couple could help find Cole a used car. After putting out some feelers, one of her husband’s co-workers from Community Automotive Repair offered up his son’s car, a 1999 Volvo S80, adding that he wanted to give the car to Cole, Atkinson said.

Second-grader Aria Brown, left, with her mother

As the Godwin community learned of the need, people, along with Atkinson’s friends and family, began to pitch in to help. Towner Atkinson did some repair work on the car and, through donations, they were able to fix the windshield and put in new seat covers to replace the torn originals. There was even enough to purchase some gas cards for the family.

“I’m beyond grateful that there are still good people out there that help those in need, especially with something like this,” Cole said.

While Atkinson admits that finding someone a car seemed like a hurdle, she is not surprised by the support of the Godwin community.

“The people in this community are so supportive,” she said. “If you are struggling, they are willing to help as much as they can. It was a cool situation to be a part of.”  

Read more from Godwin Heights: 
Filling the need of teachers from within their own building
Senior shines on the soccer field, looks toward the future

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Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma
Joanne Bailey-Boorsma is a reporter covering Kent ISD, Godwin Heights, Kelloggsville, Forest Hills and Comstock Park. The salutatorian for the Hartland Public Schools class of 1985, she changed her colors from blue and maize to green and white by attending Michigan State University, where she majored in journalism. Joanne moved to the Grand Rapids area in 1989, where she started her journalism career at the Advance Newspapers. She later became the editor for On-the-Town magazine, a local arts and entertainment publication. Her eldest daughter is a nurse, working in Holland, and her youngest attends Oakland University. Both are graduates from Byron Center High School. She is a volunteer for the Van Singel Fine Arts Advisory Board and the Kent District Library. In her free time, Joanne enjoys spending time with her family, checking out local theater and keeping up with all the exchange students they have hosted through the years. Read Joanne's full bio


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