"We painted it, we sanded it, took it all apart and put it together, nights and weekends," he said. "It's such a breath of fresh air to see her generation wanting to do this. I have not mentioned this to anyone that's not all smiles."
A family effort
Schulz and Lee say the same thing as many others on the Fiero forum: They've got kids, nieces, nephews. Maybe if they see Kathryn, they'll want a family project like hers, too?
"It's the thing that gets the family to spend some time together, real quality time," said Bob Erekson, Kathryn's uncle. He works on cars as a hobby, and gave the rusty old Fiero a once-over before she bought it. He offered up his garage for some parts of the project and taught her to get over the fear of sparks and heat when welding.
"It's really getting me excited about my own car," he said. "It's a hobby that gives the family the opportunity to spend time on it. I'm glad to have it in my garage."
On the forum, she just goes by Kathryn. She didn't know the online community existed until months into the project, after her 13th birthday, when her dad revealed the community supporting her. Among gifts of movies, books and nail polish that year, she'd gotten new carpeting, caliper paint, tools and a toolbox, some of it provided by people she'd never met, who just wanted to pitch in.
"I truly had the best b-day EVER thanks to all of you who are supporters to me and my project!" she wrote in her first post to the forum. "i also wanted to thank those of you who have offered me support and wished me luck, thank you! and last but not least to those of you who wished me a happy 13th...thanks i had a wonderful day and was surprised to see how many people around the globe still liked the little fiero!"
When Kathryn first read all the well-wishes and advice online, she said, "I felt kind of amused, and a little baffled," she said. "It was strange to see how many people I can actually inspire. I'm a 14-year-old girl and already I've influenced hundreds of people?
"The people on the forum have definitely been a really big support, probably the second-best to my family. When you get stuck, they're all 'Where've you been? Where'd you go?' I hope to keep the car for my whole life. It's a project that me and my dad and everybody's worked on together."
'I hope he can turn a wrench'
Sometimes, Kathryn and her dad are on the forum every night, updating their progress or asking questions. Sometimes, weeks will go by without much to report. It means she's sanding -- a tedious, necessary task she counts as the toughest so far -- or just catching up on her homework.
Lately she's been focused on rebuilding a 3.4-liter Camaro engine to replace the 2.8-liter the Fiero came with. She's done with the sanding and is starting to piece together the body. She is cautiously optimistic of meeting her sweet 16 deadline.
She's busy, too, sharing what she's learned. Last month, Kathryn was short on time for posting, but her dad shared photos of the car maintenance class Kathryn taught for girls at her church.
There was another photo, too: Kathryn, her long curls straightened, a red rose on her wrist, a young man's arm around her shoulder.
The forum seemed to let out a sigh. They're excited for her to start driver's training in the next year, but how could their Kathryn already be heading to a homecoming dance?
"This is pretty hard on Dad," DiMaria wrote.
"Daddy to Daddy," one member wrote back, "I feel your heartache."
"I hope he can turn a wrench!" another joked.
Another: "If he can't, she can teach him!"
Nobody needed to worry. A few days later, Kathryn was back online. The dance was fun, she said, but she'd been de-rusting the horn and cleaning the water pump.
"Just little things but I suppose," she told the community around her car. "They are still progress."