Linda Watlington will cut two hours off her daily commute to and from work this week driving her brand new Mercury Grand Marquis.
Well, almost new. It’s a 2000 model, but completely new under the hood.
Watlington is one of 18 people who received a restored, used car on Monday for $588 from Wheels4Hope, a faith-based nonprofit that repairs donated cars and recycles them back to people in need.
Not only has Watlington been without a car, but she and her two children, ages 6 and 8, had been living in a homeless shelter for 15 months until about six months ago.
Housing for New Hope, a Durham organization that works to help end homelessness in the Triangle, helped Watlington find a home in Durham and referred her to Wheels4Hope.
“I thank God for Housing for New Hope,” she said. “They helped me get everything on a roll real fast.”
Cynthia Harris, coordinator for Housing for New Hope, said she referred about 11 people for a car from Wheels4Hope in the past year after making sure they could budget for the new responsibility.
“We like to have people that are motivated, want to do right and change their life around,” Harris said. “Before we did the referral, we made sure Linda was ready to accept all the responsibilities that come along with housing and having a car. She was ready for it all. She has made a big change in her life and has just been a wonderful person to work with.”
Wheels4Hope program coordinator Heather Smith said that in the past year the 15-year-old organization placed 145 cars with people and families who needed help getting around.
“To get to work is a struggle. They are spending hours on the bus and getting their kids on the bus to daycare then getting to work,” Smith said. “So a lot of them are only working part time because they just can’t get there.”
With mobility, many will be able to work full-time and eventually move up to better housing as a result, she added.
Wheels4Hope handed out the keys to 18 people during a ceremony at its annual charity golf game Monday at Wildwood Green Golf Club in North Raleigh. With huge smiles, the recipients got in their cars as the audience counted down and signaled to start their engines.
Guy Moody of Durham was the proud recipient of the only truck, a white 2003 Ford Ranger XLT, topped with a giant red bow.
“One of the reasons I thank God I got this truck is I can help my mom and step-mom out,” Moody said. “They are up in age and not able to do everything physical. I’m right across town, and I can just come over and help them.”
Moody has been without a car since 1992, and mainly used public transportation and a bicycle to get around. With the truck, he will have more job opportunities. He works at Pizza Hut now and says his first priority is getting a second job.
With her new 1999 Saturn SL, Sangeeta Nicholson will no longer rely on friends, family and public transportation to get where she needs to go.
“It feels wonderful, wonderful, wonderful,” she said. “It’s independence.”
Nicholson, who lives in Raleigh and hasn’t owned a car in 15 years, works as a banquet server at the Raleigh Convention Center and is also a full-time student in office administration at Wake Tech. She was referred to Wheels4Hope after completing programs at Community Success Initiative, which helps formerly incarcerated people get their lives back together.
Cars aren’t free
To receive a car from Wheels4Hope, an individual must be referred by another social service agency. The organization accepts donated cars to refurbish and give back to those in need for $588 – $500 for the purpose of having a personal financial investment in the car and $88 to cover the license plate fees.
Wheels4Hope refurbishes about 300 cars per year. While half go to program recipients, the other half are sold for between $4,000 and $7,000 to help fund the program, according to its full-time mechanic Bill Orio.
Wheels4Hope also has between 15 and 18 regular volunteers who have worked on cars of their own and come into the shop to help. Orio said a good number of donated vehicles are often beyond repair after accidents, poor care, or just sitting for 5 or 6 years exposed to the elements.
“Even if they go to the scrap yard, that’s money that keeps us rolling,” he said.