Donated vehicles help change lives

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— Marty Schwartz has enjoyed many special moments as president of the nonprofit, Vehicles for Change.

There was the family of an eighth grade football player whose grid-iron prospects for high school appeared dim because his mother didn’t have a car to take him to and from practice, which is mandatory for making the high school team.

And, there was the single mom who lived in a domestic violence shelter who left her home with her two children and the clothes on their backs.

“A family who had gotten a car from us and when they got the car, there was this young boy in the family who was very excited,” Schwartz recalled. “He was 6 feet 2 and 195 pounds but he was in eighth grade and I asked him why he was so excited about the car because he couldn’t drive it.”

The young man told Schwartz that he could now play on the high school football team because of the donated car. Nine months ago when Vehicles for Change (VFC) officials checked in on the family, the young man had grown into a six-foot-six inch and 250 pound football player who earned a scholarship to play at Virginia Union.

“They said it was all because of the car,” Schwartz said.

As for the mom who was forced into a shelter, she ultimately earned a higher paying job, became a soccer mom, purchased a van and donated her car back to VFC.

“She said she wanted someone else to get that same magic that she got,” Schwartz said. “The term about magic the mother used jumps out and the hope that you can now escape poverty and can do things for your children. You can literally drive yourself out of poverty.”

VFC accepts and repairs donated cars and in collaboration with several partners and the Maryland-based internet marketing and web design firm, CC&A Web Development award them to pre-qualified families for as little as $750, enabling low-income families to become self-sufficient.

A total of 99 percent of the car donations are from the public and the organization has awarded more than 4,700 cars since its inception 15 years ago, gifts that have helped to change the lives of more than 16,400 individuals.

Schwartz says that the program guarantees low-interest car loans to families, which helps them to build credit. It provides an orientation course to prepare recipients for car ownership. Each vehicle carries a six-month and 6,000 mile warranty.

VFC also operates “Freedom Wheels,” a retail used-car lot that is open to the public so that car prices are kept low for recipients.

“All of the proceeds from cars sold to the public go toward preparing more vehicles for deserving families,” Schwartz said.

The program is designed for clients for VFC’s partner social service and job-readiness agencies locally.

To participate, individuals must submit applications through a partner agency and VFC selects applicants based on whether they have a verifiable job offer or if they work at least 30 hours per week. Applicants must have a driver’s license, must not have any other vehicle, be drug free with no extensive criminal background and must be able to cover fees for taxes, tags and title, which amount to approximately $500, according to officials.

“It basically costs us $5,400 to put one car on the street and we’re particular about the cars we give to a family because we want to make sure they get quality transportation,” Schwartz said.

The program is funded in part by the participants who pay an average of $750 for the vehicle and VFC guarantees loans, which are provided through Hamilton Federal Bank in Baltimore and Sandy Spring Bank in the outlying region.

“If not for VFC, I can honestly say that I don’t know where I’d be,” said recipient Rebecca Hocking of Salisbury, who routinely walked a mile to the bus stop each morning at 5:30 a.m. to take her eight-and-three-year-old daughters to school. “It was a burden on everyone, especially for a three-year-old. And, you just feel guilty.”

Hocking, who was rewarded with a 2003 Toyota Avalon in January. She says the vehicle transformed her life.

Like Hocking, Krystal Parker is another success story who can be found on VFC’s website. On Valentine’s Day, Parker and her children received a 2004 Ford Focus station wagon from VFC. Prior to that, Parker and her two children, ages 10 and 6, weren’t able to return home until 2 a.m. or 3 a.m. because she works until 11 p.m. and was forced to take the bus late at night.

“In the snow, we were on the bus stop,” she said.

With the car, Parker’s commute is a lot shorter and she and her children no longer have to stand at bus stops in bad weather.

“[The program] is wonderful. I am willing to share the news with everyone who is looking for a car,” she said. “It is an excellent program.”

For more information about the program, visit www.vehicleforchange.org.