Finding community through adversity

Five Heidelberg students found generosity and kindness in the world on their chaotic trip back from spring break.

Kaylea Bowers, Quinn Kantner, Justine Liddle, Kiera Malone and Emily Nolting drove to Naples, Florida, together during spring break.

“Everything was going just fine and dandy,” Quinn started to recount before she was interrupted by Emily. “Everything was not fine and dandy,” explaining the girls’ last day. Everyone decided to stay an extra day in Florida where things began to take a bad turn.

Fires in Naples along with high winds misted ashes onto the beach. Put that together with lost keys and a phone dropped into the ocean, the girls wanted to head back home. The plan was to drive through the night back to Tiffin with each girl taking turns behind the wheel.

Around halfway through their trip, they ran into heavy storms in the Atlanta area. With low visibility their van hit a puddle, started shaking and the “check engine” light came on. They pulled off the road to weigh their options. Deciding to monitor the van as they drove, they continued on.

Eventually having to cut their losses and have the van checked out, two hours of cautious driving led them to the city of Dalton, Georgia. Half an hour from the Georgia-Tennessee border, Dalton is roughly two hours north of Atlanta with a population just over 30,000 people.

In Dalton, they found an open auto repair shop that had just opened early that morning. The shop owners pointed them in the direction of a small cafe while they waited for the diagnosis on the van.

The five girls sat at breakfast and talked about their troubles. “We all decided the day was going to be terrible at this point,” Kaylea said. “We were complaining about our luck, while the man behind us must have overheard.” The fellow diner at the Oak Creek Cafe went to their waitress and paid their bill. “He had a daughter,” Quinn explained. “He said, ‘If I had a daughter who got stuck in the same situation, I hope someone would do this for her.’”

We were ecstatic,” Emily said. “How could someone do something this nice for us?

While their spirits were boosted, the van was still at the repair shop. They went back to the shop and struck up a conversation with another customer. “He worked in the Toledo area before and I’m from Monroe (Michigan), so we hit it off with him,” Kiera said.

The mechanic came out and explained what had happened to the van. The cost of repair was going to be nearly $600. Optimistic emotions quickly disappeared. Before the girls could even begin a conversation on how they would be able to pay, the customer in the shop insisted on paying for their repairs. “This already happened once to us, what did we do to deserve it happening again?” Quinn wondered. “All he wanted was for us to pay it forward and to tell people about our good time in Dalton, Georgia.”

With spirits higher than they ever could have imagined, they wandered the city of Dalton, visiting shops until the van was repaired. With each visit, they told their story and everyone wished them well on the rest of their journey home. “It was so great, I kept saying that I’m going to live there someday,” Justine laughed. “(Dalton) was such a perfect mix of the small town feel and southern hospitality,” Kaylea added.

The rest of the trip home went as planned, though an 18-hour trip turned into 28 hours. During the ride home, Kaylea posted their story on Facebook and Emily composed a letter and shared it with a woman they met in Dalton. Kaylea’s post has since gone viral and reached the residents of Dalton, while Emily’s letter was published by the Dalton Daily Citizen on the front page of the newspaper.

Kiera tweeted after arriving in Dalton, “Three blondes, a brunette and a redhead drive a mom-van for spring break …” Little did she, or anyone, know the adventure and kindness that would follow. “We’re still in awe of everyone’s kindness. We just want everyone to know that there are good humans in the world despite all the negativity.”

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