Keys were exchanged Monday evening at an Olive Branch restaurant that reflected a classic example of the term, "paying it forward."
Nearly 10 years ago, Olive Branch police officer Mark Ayers was paralyzed by bullets shot at him during a traffic stop.
In the years since, Ayers has been able to get back and forth in a specially-fitted van as he continued working with the police department as a detective.
But the years and miles have taken a toll on the van and the needed repairs cost more than Ayers could afford.
In stepped Amy Hughes, owner of Sweetpea’s Table in Olive Branch, who heard about Ayers' needs and wanted to help.
Hughes was able to put together a benefit last year and that, along with other fundraising efforts, helped raise enough money for Ayers to get a new van.
But while Ayers has new wheels, he wanted to help someone else in a similar situation by paying it forward.
As the owner of a new van, Ayers was able to give another paralyzed person his old vehicle, which had been fixed up and repaired for continued usage.
The beneficiary of Ayers’ gift was Scotty Arnold of Byhalia, who was paralyzed when he was shot doing work repossessing vehicles in October 2012.
“I’m going to learn to drive again where I can get out and be more independent,” Arnold said. “I’m a single father with three kids and this is going to make it a lot easier on me.”
Ayers said he was glad his old vehicle could help someone else out.
“I don’t need the (old) van, but somebody else does,” Ayers said. “There are people out there that need help and if there’s a way to help them, do that. That’s the easiest way to do it. Don’t expect somebody else to do it.”
The benefit Hughes put together last summer included a 5K race, tennis tournament, arts and craft festival and music, with all proceeds going to raise money for Ayers’ new van. The benefit raised about $60,000, which helped cover the cost of his new van and the repairs for his old vehicle that went to Arnold.
Mayor Scott Phillips said he was glad to see the community support Ayers.
“This is what it is about,” Phillips said. “Police officers have a tough, tough job. For the most part, they’re looked at as one of the enemies and it shouldn’t be that way. What’s good about this is that the community has come together to support one of our own.”
Police Chief Don Gammage said he was grateful for what was done for one of his officers.
“The outpouring of support from the city was just outstanding,” Gammage said. “I can’t even imagine what Mark has gone through but Mark has continued to have a positive attitude each and every day and I thank Sweetpea’s for what they’ve done for Mark.”
Bob Bakken is Staff Writer and may be reached at 662-429-6397 ext. 240.