We are proud to share that Working Wheels was featured in this Asheville Citizen-Times article by Beth Walton
Working Wheels took my thousand-dollar problem and turned it into a $500 life-changing investment.
ASHEVILLE – When my car broke down on Merrimon Avenue during rush hour traffic with my 1-year-old in the back seat, I dropped my head on my steering wheel and cried.
Lucky for me, the engine quickly restarted and I was able to drive the final mile to our home. But, I was done. My husband and I bought that car on the cheap in 2012 after we were evacuated from the Peace Corps in Kazakhstan and were told we would have to wait months to re-enroll.
We needed temporary jobs and a way to get around. Since then, that car has been nothing but trouble.
I was so sick of costly, temporary repairs that I wanted it out of sight. We didn’t have time to try to sell it, so we called Working Wheels, formerly under the brand Wheels4Hope.
It had been a while since I had time to volunteer. Why not make a donation?
Working Wheels transforms donated cars into usable vehicles for working families.
They were able to take my thousand dollar problem and turn it into a $500 life-changing investment.
My car was fixed by local mechanics at a discounted rate and sold for a very reasonable price to single mother not that much younger than me with a baby boy nearly the same age as my son.
When I heard Ashley Laws’ story, I realized my problems were nothing more than raindrops to her thunderstorm.
My old Hyundai was going to help her on her path to success, and for the first time, I was incredibly proud of my purchase and my car.
In April, Laws graduated from a 13-month program at Mary Benson House, a residential recovery center for new and pregnant mothers struggling with addiction.
She came to Asheville in March 2016 with her son, Tiernan, who then was only 2-months-old. Social services had paid her a visit just after he was born and she knew if she wanted to keep him, she’d have to make some major life changes.
In just over a year, Laws, 25, has enrolled in classes at Asheville–Buncombe Technical Community College with dreams of being a dental hygienist. She found a higher paying job as a housekeeper at the Village Hotel on Biltmore Estate.
She saved up enough money to pay off some lingering traffic tickets and reinstate her driver’s license. She put away $603 to participate in the Working Wheels program. Most importantly, she completed recovery and found a house to rent with her son.
“It definitely helped me establish some independence and just knowing that I can provide for my family,” she said. “That’s our only means of transportation, and therefore our means of making money.”
Since its founding nearly three years ago, Working Wheels has sold 40 cars to individuals in need with the vast majority of them going to women with children, said Jamie Beasley, executive director.
Those cars are changing people’s lives, he said. Almost instantly they are saving time on transportation, picking up more hours at work and spending more time with their children.
Seventy-five percent of clients see an increase in their income almost immediately, added Beasley.
“That’s what we’re measuring: Are you making more money? Are you saving more money? Has your living situation improved?”
Working Wheels will take any type of donated vehicle, Beasley said. If it can be fixed in-house or with the deeply discounted help of local mechanics for less than $1,000 and it looks like it will run for at least two more years, it becomes a program car.
Other cars are sold with the profits going back to Working Wheels’ operations or saved and used for parts. Beasley calls those vehicles “organ donors.”
Clients referred to Working Wheels must pay $500 for their car and an additional $103 for taxes, tags, and fees. The vehicle comes with a six-month shared warranty where the client and Working Wheels together build a relationship with a local mechanic.
By paying for the car, a client demonstrates their ability to maintain a vehicle that is sometimes 15 to 20 years old, Beasley said.
Volunteers help the organization by offering mechanical services, office support or rides around town. They also can donate cars.
Mechanic Mike Campbell came to Working Wheels after spending years as a case manager for Community Action Opportunities, which helps low-income individuals move away from poverty.
No matter what sort of issue his clients were trying to overcome, if they didn’t have reliable transportation, they were waylaid on their pathway toward success, he said.
“Car issues were a huge part of their daily struggles,” said Campbell. “These were people with not a whole lot of discretionary income.”
Three years ago Campbell and other case mangers around town got together to talk about transportation. Car troubles were keeping their clients from progress and the organizations from meeting their missions.
A domestic violence survivor at Helpmate, for example, would return to an abusive situation because she no longer had a way to go to work and live independently.
Clients of Homeward Bound would fall back into homelessness because their car would break down and they couldn’t keep their job.
In March, just before Laws was to move out on her own, Working Wheels brought my junker to her at the Mary Benson House with a giant bow affixed to the top.
Still in her work uniform, Laws sat in the driver’s seat and thumbed a tear away from her eye. “It even has a CD player,” she exclaimed.
My car not only allowed Laws to drive herself and Tiernan to work, daycare, doctor’s appointments, and school, but it also meant they could visit her mother in Caldwell County, attend birthday parties and go to the park.
When I saw the 15-month-old toddle up to the car, my heart swelled. I couldn’t help but feel bonded. Having a baby has simultaneously been the hardest and best thing to ever happen to me.
I have the support of a husband and the privilege to buy a new, used car. Laws was doing it all by herself. I was humbled as we hugged hello.
“I just feel super grateful,” she said. “It just came with hard work and trust in God.”
This is the opinion of Beth Walton. Each month a Citizen-Times reporter volunteers around Asheville and shares their adventure with our readers. If you’d like us to visit your group, contact Walton at firstname.lastname@example.org or 828-232-5851. More at www.citizen-times.com/mountaincauses.
Working Wheels is always in need of cars, volunteers, and support. For more information, visit www.workingwheelswnc.org or call 828-633-6888.