With the turn of a key, former Marine Jason Roberts’ mission to get a college degree just got much easier. 

Roberts is studying art at Black Hawk College, but because he doesn’t have a car he’s had a difficult commute having to rely on public transportation or a friend’s car.

“I was trying to hold back tears. This means so much,” Roberts said. “[I] kind of broke down for a few minutes, which I hadn’t done in a really long time.” 

The 2005 Ford Escape was a surprise gift from Jim Whan, the owner of Automotive Central in East Moline. 

“We as a nation need to do more for those who have done so much for us,” Whan said. “Those aren’t feel-good words, that’s the truth.”

But the car doesn’t just give Roberts a way to get to class. It’s a way to get to family and take his dog exploring.

Roberts: “Oh my pup’s going to love this,” he said. “[It] allows me a little bit of freedom with my dog. I can take her to the park.”

With only 80,000 miles on it Roberts said the Explorer will take him far, but the first place is a job interview Friday morning. 

“We’ll see what everybody else is driving,” he said. “Looks like I’m going to be able to keep up.”