A former U.S. Marine who overcame addiction and incarceration to embark on a college career at MTSU has a new set of wheels to help him along the way.
MTSU sophomore agribusiness major Oketa Ojok received a revamped 2009 Toyota Camry hybrid Friday, Sept. 16, at the Student Union on campus in the Service King Great American Giveaway.
The charitable project distributes refurbished vehicles to people who have overcome formidable obstacles.
“Your ability to persevere is really what defines you, and it’s hard to persevere when you don’t have the right team around you,” said the 31-year-old Ojok. “And, I think, at this point in time, I have a great supporting team.”
In his application essay, Ojok, a native of South Sudan, wrote about becoming an alcoholic following his deployment to Iraq, resulting in the death of his best friend after a drinking binge.
He received a general discharge from the Marine Corps and dropped out of school. A few months later, he was in jail.
“I could not see it at the time, but going to jail was the greatest thing that could have ever happened to me,” wrote Ojok. “It gave me enough time to separate myself from my crippling addictions and toxic relationships.”
After spending his jail sentence reading everything he could get his hands on, Ojok was furloughed into a recovery court, a special program in which a multidisciplinary team of professionals helps nonviolent offenders with substance abuse and/or mental health issues.
“Since being admitted to Veterans’ Treatment Court, Mr. Ojok has made great, great strides in his life skills,” Judge Ben Hall McFarlin Jr. of Rutherford County General Sessions Court Part I wrote in a letter to Service King that he read at the ceremony.
“In fact, he is an exemplary member of our program. He’s an inspiration to all of us.”
Service King made arrangements for Ojok to receive the car through MTSU’s Charlie and Hazel Daniels Veterans and Military Family Center, which helps active military personnel, veterans and family members move from military to college and from college to a successful career.
“I appreciate that MTSU has designed a center so that we can serve veterans and organizations can come to us to assist them,” said the center director, Dr. Hilary Miller.
“I began a new chapter in my life with people who wanted more of life,” wrote Ojok. “I started working out every day and, as I fed my mind and strengthened my body, my life began to change for the better.”
Service King, a collision repair chain with more than 275 locations in 23 states, is giving away 36 “recycled rides” nationwide. The vehicles are distributed to military veterans, single mothers, domestic violence victims, homeless families and others who need transportation to turn their lives around.
State Farm Insurance donated Ojok’s Camry, and Service King on Nolensville Pike in Nashville repaired it. Daw Auto Trim of Mt. Juliet, Tennessee, AAA Auto Glass of Murfreesboro, and Beaman Toyota of Nashville donated parts and labor to get it on the road.
“I feel like I’m the luckiest guy in Middle Tennessee right now,” said Ojok.
Fittingly, Ojok’s new Camry is blue — true blue.
For more information about the veterans’ center, contact Miller at 615-904-8347 or firstname.lastname@example.org or go to www.mtsu.edu/military. To learn more about the National Auto Body Council’s Recycled Rides program, visit www.nationalautobodycouncil.org/programs/recycled-rides.
— Gina K. Logue (email@example.com)