Out-of-work Arlington mom receives early Christmas gift: a much-needed vehicle

ARLINGTON -- "What is going on here?" Tracy Jackson repeated four times in quick succession on Wednesday as Lea Mattson, her daughter's teacher, handed over the keys to a shiny red sedan adorned with a big blue bow.

Mattson, who teaches homebound students in the Arlington school district, scrounged up the money from friends to buy a 2002 Ford Taurus to make life a little easier for the out-of-work mom and her teenage daughter, who has leukemia.

"I can actually take her to her appointments now," Jackson said as she hugged Mattson and cried. "It means everything to me. I love it."

The car was revealed Wednesday at the North Arlington apartment complex where Jackson and Hannah Berg, her 14-year-old daughter live.

An entourage of Mattson's friends, fellow teachers and apartment neighbors cheered and brushed aside tears.

One, a hairdresser, treated Jackson and Berg to a "beauty day" of haircuts and manicures last week; another filled a trendy backpack with new supplies for Hannah when she is able to go back to school at Nichols Junior High School.

Gift cards for clothes, movies and more were also presented to mother and daughter.

Cash donations will pay for insurance and gas for Hannah's new ride.

The car's previous owner fixed up the Taurus with new brakes, struts, a compressor and other repairs.

"It's for a good cause," said the man who along with his wife wanted to remain anonymous.

Hannah was told about the surprise ahead of time so she could steer her mother toward an "appointment" with reporters, supposedly to talk about the homebound education program.

"I've been keeping a secret for three days," Hannah said. "I had to text my best friend to tell somebody about it. It's been hard keeping a secret like this."

Hannah was diagnosed with leukemia in March. Her mom, a human resources specialist who lost her job, has been unable to look for work without a car.

An older sister, who's 20, is away at college.

Mattson said Hannah is an exceptional student. She's an honors student and "powers through her lessons even when she doesn't feel good."

Mattson said many of her students are in extreme situations. "But this mom has fallen on dire straits," Mattson said. "She can't get a job without a car."

Her friends sprung into action. One provided the $2,500 to purchase the car. The repairs were donated.

"We can go and do things now without having to rely on other people," Hannah said.

Mother and daughter are already planning outings to the movies and shopping trips with the gift cards.

"It's going to be a good Christmas," Hannah said with an impish smile.

Shirley Jinkins, 817-390-7657

Twitter: @shirljinkins