On Friday, January 26, Rockland Community College hosted a ceremony to award a rehabilitated car to Michael J. Finlay, a Navy veteran and Engineering Science student at RCC. The event was made possible through the generous donation of a 2005 Toyota Corolla LE by the Rockland County Veterans of Foreign Wars (VFW) and the collective effort of several donors who contributed to the restoration of the car.
“I’m struggling to find the words (to say thank you), because I was in a pretty desperate situation,” said Finlay, a single father of two children. “When my old vehicle finally died, I was in a bad spot. I had to go eight months without it. Pardon my French, but it was hell…I don’t have adequate words for how appreciative I am.”
When Finlay’s previous vehicle failed in the spring of 2023, he was unsure how he was going to be able to complete the semester, let alone the rest of his time at RCC. After bringing the issue to the attention of his academic advisor, Assistant Di- rector of Veterans Affairs Jonathan Barnwell, the two came up with a temporary plan that involved Finlay taking a majority of digital courses. A grant from the Joseph P. Dwyer Vet2Vet Program in Dutchess County provided funds for a weekly car service so Michael could finish the semester at RCC.
What Finlay didn’t know was that behind the scenes, Barn- well was seeking out long-term transportation options for his student.
“I’ve known about the (car-giving) program for a while, said Barnwell. “So I eventually sent Michael the application. He then met with Guy Gebbia from the Rockland County Veterans of Foreign Wars on the phone. Guy was like, ‘Oh yeah, you can tell he’s deserving. He’s a Navy veteran, he’s disabled, he’s a single parent’…He’s our student, and I wanted the ceremony here.”
While the rehabilitated vehicle was first given to Finlay in December 2023 so he could use it over the holidays, this official donation ceremony marked the first of its kind at RCC. The fundraiser by the Rockland County Veterans Association (in collaboration with the VFW) generated over $3,000 for upgrades to the car, which was donated and rehabbed anonymously.
“Everyone has thanked me today,” Finlay said, choking up as he closed the ceremony. “This is typically the time where I would thank everyone back. To be honest with you, as a veteran who has struggled with mental health issues, physical health issues and other difficulties, I tend not to expect much. To have something like this provided is a blessing. So thank you all, and thank you for being here. God bless.”