FORT WALTON BEACH, Fla. (WKRG) — Johnny Gazoo said he and his wife of four years needed a reliable car more than anything.

“So we’ve been sharing her mother’s hand-me-down car and we’ve kind of been sharing and with her working and me working and me going to school we’ve had some trials for sure,” said Johnny Gazoo.

“Sometimes I ride my bike to work because I don’t have a car, which is fine. I live like .5 miles away from my job but to have this car changes everything,” said Courtney Gazoo.

On Friday, Apr. 21, the couple was picked up in Pensacola by a limo and brought to Step One Automotive in Fort Walton Beach.

A red carpet and crew from United Ways across the region surprised the couple with a free car.

“Absolute elation. I’m so like Starstruck because when we won I couldn’t even fathom that we even won,” said Johnny. “These guys really do a ton along the Panhandle and just showing up today, we had no idea there was going to be a limousine. We were having like dance party 2023 on the way here. And then just show up with everybody standing outside, Ohh man, I was not expecting that. Absolutely incredible.”

Johnny and Courtney won the car through the Step One Automotive Driving Opportunity Giveaway. United Way asked partners to enter a family or local residents in need of a vehicle and chose the Gazoo family as the winners.

“We give away a car to a family in need. We decided to partner with the United Ways in all of the states where we have doors in order to expedite and help us find the people who really were in the biggest need. And then we just select one of the ones that are nominated,” said Maureen Bierman, marketing director of Step One Automotive Group. “It really is something that is the heart and soul of our company, making a difference in people’s lives and we truly believe that mobility can change people’s lives. It’s amazing the difference that you can make if you put somebody in a safe car.”

The giveaway is in its second year, Step One said being able to make a difference in families’ lives is a core value of the company.

“We love to give back to the community. We love to be involved in the community and really the way a lot of this started is when Step One first began,” said Bierman. “We get requests from people for cars ‘I need a car. My church needs a church bus.’ We thought ‘How can we do that in a way that makes sense for us?'”

The car is valued at nearly $25,000 with a two-year warranty. The Gazoo’s will be responsible for registration and insurance.

The Gazoo family said they will now be able to drive to work and go further from Pensacola having a safer set of wheels.

“We want to go to Biloxi. We want to go to New Orleans and we didn’t have a reliable vehicle to get out of the vicinity of Pensacola,” said Courtney.

“It’s going to allow me to take summer classes at Pensacola State College. I’m going to finish up my computer programming degree early now. She’s going to be able to have a car to get back and forth to work and just overall the stress I feel has just been lifted off of us and that’s something that we’ve been praying for for weeks,” said Johnny.

Fort Walton Beach Mayor Dick Ryenearson, members of United Way Emerald Coast, West Florida and Okaloosa County Commissioner Carolyn Ketchel came to congratulate the couple.

“I think we’re gonna have to head over to someplace in Fort Walton, because we just got handed the keys to the city,” said Johnny. “So I’m thinking we’re probably going to have to come out here and see all the sites and do all the touristy fun stuff now that we have reliable transportation to get back and forth.”

Learn more about the United Way and Step One Automotive online.