Joplin auto repair shop gives vehicle to autistic teen in need

Caleb Phillips, 19, poses with his new car, which was given to him by Kevin’s Auto Repair in Joplin after his old car broke down and was scrapped. Courtesy | Kristin Sageser

A local family got the surprise of their life earlier this month when a Joplin auto repair shop gave them a vehicle for their teenage son, who is autistic.

“Just wanted people to know that there are angels in heaven watching over us and angels on this earth in disguise,” said Kristin Sageser in a Facebook post about Kevin’s Auto Repair that has gone viral, having been shared more than 2,000 times. “He will never know how much he helped this boy out and how thankful we are.”

Sageser’s son, Caleb Phillips, now 19 and a student at WTI in Joplin, had been the proud owner of a car that he’d purchased himself three years ago, his mother told the Globe.

“Caleb is autistic and worked and save his money to buy his own car, and we were so proud of him,” she said. “He got that car when he turned 16 and drove it this long, and that alone is a feat.”

But the car broke down two weeks ago, and the family wasn’t having much luck getting it repaired. On a friend’s suggestion, Sageser and her husband took the car to Kevin’s Auto Repair, 231 N. Schifferdecker Ave.

When the shop got a look at the car, they saw that it was rusted underneath from one end to the other, Sageser said. She called her son to give him the news; he told her that he didn’t have the money to fix it, and that it would be better just to scrap it.

For the following week, Phillips borrowed his great-grandfather’s pickup truck until the family could find a new vehicle for him.

And then Kevin Iseli called. The owner of Kevin’s Auto Repair asked Sageser if they had found a replacement vehicle yet; they hadn’t. He had one to offer, he said.

Sageser asked him how much he was asking, thinking the family would be able to take out a loan to help purchase it for Phillips.

“Bless his heart, he says, ‘I want him to have it,’” she said. “I hang up the phone, and I’m bawling.”

Iseli, who has been in business for about five years, said he wanted to give the car to Phillips because, as the dad of five children, he understands that money can sometimes be tight in households, especially when a vehicle unexpectedly breaks down.

“It’s not a big deal to me,” he said of his gift to Phillips. “I had a car I wasn’t doing nothing with, so I thought I’d give it to him and help him out.”

Iseli and Phillips met for the first time when the 19-year-old went to pick up the car. The vehicle even had a full tank of gas in it, Sageser said.

“We can’t be thankful enough,” she said. “Come to find out, he’s just an amazing guy.”

As for her son, “he’s just over the moon,” she said.

Work of an angel?

Kristin Sageser said she believes her late mother, who passed away recently, had something to do with the car donation to her son, Caleb Phillips.

"My mom moved heaven and earth for that boy when she was here, and this was the first obstacle with her gone," she said. "We really feel her hand in this. ...With his grandma gone, (Caleb) has not been himself, and now he's been really happy."

Emily Younker is the managing editor at the Joplin Globe. Contact: eyounker AT joplinglobe DOT com.