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College freshman with SMA will arrive at college in style


The end of summer loomed and Ciarra Muller waited inside Grieco Honda’s two-story showroom, with her mother, Lacie Messier, at her side.

They’ve been worried about back-to-school transportation.

Like many families who have filtered in and out of Grieco’s Johnston car dealerships, they were waiting for a new vehicle. Unlike most customers, however, their new van required no financing, no money down and no monthly payment.

The 19-year-old college student lives with spinal muscular atrophy (SMA) and utilizes a motorized wheelchair for mobility. Transportation can be expensive, and tricky.

Grieco Honda’s owners heard about Muller’s situation and decided to donate a Honda Odyssey EX, “fully equipped to accommodate a wheelchair.”

“We’re grateful beyond words,” Messier said just before she and her daughter left the safety of a back waiting room and approached the center of the massive showroom, which had been cleared at the center for a presentation ceremony.

Muller’s eyes and smile were wide. Her large family followed closely behind. Grieco’s giant pool of employees formed a half-circle, welcoming the student with applause.

In addition to the van, Robert Grieco, Pre-Owned Director and Grieco Automotive Group Partner, presented Muller with an oversized ceremonial check for $3,000 “for school supplies.”

“The family was in need of adequate transportation to commute Sierra to and from medical appointments,” according to a press release distributed by Grieco Auto Group.

Muller, an incoming freshman, started attending classes at the Community College of Rhode Island, earlier this week.

She plans to study journalism and considers herself both a “Swiftie” and a “Marvel fanatic.”

She “was born with SMA, a genetic condition, that requires special equipment such as wheelchair, feeding tube and nighttime breathing machine,” according to the Greico Auto Group press release. “In addition to writing, Sierra enjoys spending time with her three older sisters, listening to music (especially Pink and Taylor Swift), watching movies and playing Pictionary.”

Grieco Automotive Group is a family business that traces its roots back to the mid-1970s.

“Grieco Automotive Group all began with Michael Grieco Sr. who ventured into the automotive industry in 1975 and opened his first collision center, Universal Claim Service,” according to an online history of the dealership. “This led to the opening of Vantage Motor Sales in 1979. Then, in 1995, he acquired his first new car franchise, Metro Honda, now known as Grieco Honda. As the years passed and with the acquisitions of more franchises, Grieco Automotive Group was created to handle the company's growing automotive business.”

The group owns three dealerships in Johnston, along Hartford Avenue (Route 6), just off Interstate 295.

They now own six dealerships in Rhode Island and Massachusetts, seven in Florida and one in California.

“We were extremely touched by Ciarra and her story,” said Robert Grieco. “It was an honor to help this remarkable young lady as she pursues her dreams.”

After hugs and tears, the family’s new van was opened for inspection. Muller checked out the ramp.

She tried it out a few times, and Grieco said they may need to make a few final adjustments to ensure everything worked smoothly. (They also plan to cover all the van’s regular maintenance: oil changes, etc.)

They handed Messier the keys and she climbed into the driver’s seat and started up the van.

The crowd burst into applause. Messier honked the horn. Now her daughter was really ready for the first week of school.


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