PATERSON, NJ - More than 100 local leaders and guests looked on Saturday as Paterson resident Velma Hodges, an almost six-year veteran of the United States Marine Corps, was given the keys to a fully refurbished Ford Fusion thanks to Recycled Rides.

The event, the eighth of its kind hosted by John and Anne Hamdan, owners of Dynasty Auto Body, reflected the local efforts of the National Autobody Council to assist US military veterans by ensuring they have access to a vehicle so that they can transport themselves to work and medical appointments, thus increasing their employment options and access to health care.

Like others before it, the gathering was marked with pomp and circumstance, befitting of the military veteran’s service, and included patriotic themes such as the reciting of the Pledge of Allegiance and singing of the National Anthem. A huge American flag fluttered in the breeze held up by a ladder angled high into the sky from a Paterson Police Department fire truck.

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Members of both the Paterson Police and Fire Departments were in attendance in full uniform while law enforcement motorcycles stood neatly side by side, in two rows. Upon arrival, children and adults alike were delighted to see an officer seated on a horse from the Passaic County Sheriff’s Department Mounted Patrol.

According to Anne, Hodges, also a mother and cancer survivor, served in the Marines from 1987-1993. Following her military career, she worked in the IT Department for United Parcel Service (UPS) but was laid off in 2012.

“No matter what, Velma has improvised, adapted, and overcome,”

Hamden, who said she was selected with the assistance of Passaic County Clerk Danielle Ireland-Imhof from among 10 veterans offered that Velma “has spent her life giving back and today we are giving back to her.”

Several speakers, including Congressman Bill Pascrel, would take to the podium to offer gratitude to Hodges for her loyal and sacrificial service to our country.  

After thanking the hosts for “always being there for the community,” including by hosting a massive picnic that featured bouncy castles, superheroes, the dancing GEICO Gecko, and hamburgers and hot dogs prepared on a large grill manned by Paterson’s finest, Sixth Ward Councilman Al Abdelaziz noted that the previous day was Flag Day.

Turning his attention to the guest of honor Abdelaziz continued by saying “today we honor you, Corporal Hodges, for all that you have done for our country.”

“Last Christmas we were here as Dynasty gave away another car,” Mayor Andre Sayegh stated, referring to a December event which saw Brian Youssef, another former Marine, drive away with a 2017 Chrysler Pacifica. “Velma proudly served our country and this vehicle is a timely token of our gratitude.  

“She wants to be an entrepreneur and transportation is critical to owning a business,” he said referring to Hodges’ current work towards a culinary degree from Passaic County Community College, and desire to start her own catering business. “We are happy that Christmas has come early for Velma.”  

The speeches over Hodges, with a broad smile on her face, was presented a set of keys, proudly held them up in the air, opened the driver’s side door, and sat behind the steering wheel of her beautiful, new car for the first time.