By Todd Cohen
GREENSBORO, N.C. — Making the transition from homelessness, joblessness or substance abuse can be tough.
Yet even with a job, a home or recovery from drug addiction or alcoholism, maintaining stability often depends on owning a vehicle.
“Having a car opens up doors,” says Tawanna Jones, Greensboro hub manager for Wheels4Hope, a Raleigh-based nonprofit that repairs donated cars and sells them to struggling families.
Since it opened in September 2012, the Greensboro hub has placed 49 cars with families referred by seven partner agencies.
With a staff of two people — Jones and a shop foreman for its garage — the Greensboro hub counts on a volunteer to assist in its office and two volunteers to repair donated cars in its garage on Tuesdays and Thursdays.
Wheels4Hope, which operates with an annual budget of roughly $1.5 million, serves Raleigh and Durham from its Raleigh headquarters and garage.
Cars donated in Durham are repaired in Raleigh and then sold to families in Durham.
Wheels4Hope charges $500 for a car it sells to a family referred by a partner agency, plus $88 to cover the title, registration fee and taxes. Cars typically are worth $1,500 to $3,000.
The selling price barely covers repair expenses, Jones says.
Wheels4Hope also repairs higher-end cars and sells them to the public for an average price of $2,500, generating revenue to help cover its operating expenses.
Those public sales represent the biggest source of revenue for the Greensboro hub, which has sold 17 cars to the public and also receives contributions from individuals, foundations, corporations and congregations.
Since Wheels4Hope was founded, it has sold 662 cars to clients and 960 cars to the public.
To help generate operating revenue, the hub also sells parts from cars it cannot fix.
While the hub is not yet breaking even, that is a key business goal.
Once it does, Jones says, Wheels4Hope is considering expanding to another city, most likely Charlotte.
Partner agencies include StepUp Ministry Greensboro, Family Service of the Piedmont, Malachi House II, The Barnabas Network, Mary’s House, and Greensboro Housing Authority, all in Greensboro, and Baptist Children’s Homes of North Carolina in Thomasville.
Partner agencies typically refer clients to Wheels4Hope after they have worked for four to six months with a case manager and have stable housing and employment but still lack transportation, Jones says.
Owning a car gives a client “a sense of independence, a sense of freedom,” says Jones, who formerly was director of Christian education at Mount Zion Baptist Church and before that worked for 17 years in Greensboro and Charlotte for the Internal Revenue Service.
“They can work where they want to work, not just where the bus line is,” she says. “They can shop and buy as many groceries as they want to buy, not just what they can carry on the bus. They can schedule their doctor appointments or even go to the doctor when it’s convenient for them.”
Owning a car also gives clients “the freedom to participate in or attend their children’s functions at school, and the children get to participate in activities after school and can get picked up,” she says. “A lot of times, kids can’t participate in band or football or other activities because they can’t get picked up.”