WHAT A DIFFERENCE eight weeks makes!
Back in June, I wrote about Betsy Betancourt, 24, a single mom just two months from graduating with a degree in practical nursing - a credential that would open a world of opportunity to Betsy and her 3-year-old daughter, Brianny.
But the unexpected death of Betsy's sister, Neida, from a massive infection threw her plans into chaos. Neida, also a single mom, had left behind five children, four of them teens who moved in with Betsy. And Betsy couldn't afford to both care for them and finish school.
Foster care? No way. Betsy could never split up the kids.
But quitting school for another dead-end job? That was no option, either. Without a degree, Betsy knew that she'd never build a stable future for the family.
Worried, grieving and exhausted, she was between a rock and a very, very hard place, I wrote back in June - hardships she knew she'd transcend if she could just make it to graduation.
To say that Daily News readers opened their hearts to Betsy is like saying that Philly gets a tad humid this time of year. She received enough assistance - not just cash, but supermarket gift cards and donations of clothes and support services - that a miracle happened last Friday:
Betsy graduated from Prism Technical Institute, right on time. She's now studying for her state-licensing exams. Once she passes, she can begin her career as a licensed practical nurse.
And when she does, she'll have a safe way to get to work, thanks to a second miracle that occurred just yesterday.
Of the many reality shows jamming our TVs, an increasingly popular one is "NASCAR Angels."
Its mission: Find worthy folks needing car repair, then restore their vehicles to mint condition.
Its goal: Change people's lives.
The good folks at Phoenix-based Magic Dust TV, which produces "NASCAR Angels," read Betsy's story in the Daily News and called to ask: Does Betsy need some help?
Her 1999 Chevy Blazer was a scratched, dented and dangerous load of metal. Its front bumper and radio: missing. Gas gauge, heat and air conditioning: busted. Brakes, tires and axle bearings: shot. Ball joints: crumbling. Doors: sagging.
And its ratty interior?
Honey, don't even go there.
"Her car was an accident waiting to happen," says Art Millevois, an owner, with his brothers, of six Goodyear Gemini automobile-service centers in the Northeast.
Since Goodyear Gemini is the major sponsor of "NASCAR Angels," the Millevois family offered to overhaul Betsy's car, gratis. Which means that the last weeks have been a blast for Betsy's family and the "angels" who've rehabbed her car.
You know the deal: TV crews filming Betsy at home, at school and nervously driving her "accident waiting to happen." Crews hanging out at the Millevois garage and also at local Keenan Auto Body, chronicling the restoration of Betsy's car from Chevy Blah to Chevy Blazer.
It all came together yesterday in the parking lot of Prism Career Institute on Roosevelt Boulevard, where Betsy, surrounded by family, friends and classmates, gasped as she saw her restored car for the first time.
I won't spoil the "reveal" for anyone who wants to see the episode of "NASCAR Angels" that will feature Betsy's story (it airs the weekend of Oct. 3; go to www.nascar.com for details).
But let me just say that it's a wonder what $15,000 worth of brand-new parts and labor can do for a former junker.
Let me say, too, that the response to Betsy's story - first from locals, now from a national TV production company - is touching, but hardly surprising.
Those who hear of Betsy's refusal to cancel her dreams for herself but instead expand them to include dreams for her sister's children, well, they can't help but be moved.
So to all who have helped her, many, many thanks.
And congratulations, Betsy. What an eight weeks it has been. *
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