Vehicles for Change gives away 152nd car


March 05, 2001|By Amy L. Miller | Amy L. Miller,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

CHANGING THE LIFE of a Carroll County family can be as easy as donating that old clunker sitting in the driveway.

Vehicles for Change, a charity that has been providing cars for needy families since October 1999, recently gave away its 152nd car in Carroll County. And it's looking for more.

"I know of no one else who is putting these cars back on the street," said Marty Schwartz, executive director of the program, which sells the cars to families for a fraction of their cost. "Other organizations may take a donated car and sell it for a couple of hundred bucks, but we're using them to change an entire family's life."

The program, which provided its first car to a Carroll County family in October 1999, was the brainchild of employees at Precision Certi-Pro Warehouse, a regional auto parts retailer with Maryland offices in Beltsville.

A year ago, the program expanded to Baltimore City and Prince George's County.

Precision salespeople gather 50 to 70 cars in donations a month from garages on their sales routes. The charity keeps one of about seven cars and prefers vehicles made after 1987 with fewer than 150,000 miles.

Even with those requirements, the organization might not be able to put a car back on the road.

"We may get a car in a donation which is decent but needs an engine. We can't afford to replace the engine, but it's still valuable to us."

Such cars are sold wholesale or for scrap, with proceeds benefiting Vehicles for Change. When a car can be repaired, Carroll County work is done at Harris Automotive on Lucabaugh Mill Road and Westminster Meineke on Route 140.

Other Carroll County sponsors are Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc. and Carroll County Department of Social Services. The latter provides grants that help cover the cost of running the program. Both agencies help identify needy families.

Families must be low-income, without transportation, have a job or a verifiable job offer, and be able to obtain insurance. They also need to demonstrate they can afford routine maintenance - oil changes and tune-ups - a car requires.

Once eligibility is established, the program backs the family in a low-interest used car loan that BB&T Bank provides through Freedom Financial Services. The cars, which usually have a Kelly Blue Book value between $1,500 and $4,500, have been sold to families for $600 to $900. Proceeds benefit Vehicles for Change.

"We want to help people try to help themselves," Schwartz said. "If they're willing to get out and get it done, we're willing to step up to the plate and help them get it done."

The vehicles not only help adults get to work, but help change the lives of their children, he said. A family with a car can increase earnings, get their children involved in school, athletic and community activities.

"Parents are now able to give their kids things and do things that other families are able to do," Schwartz said. "They all say it's like being let out of jail. You can't put a price tag on that."

Information about Vehicles for Change: call Gloria Bair at Human Services Programs of Carroll County Inc., 410-857-2999 or Deb Cunzman at Carroll County Department of Social Services, 410-386-3407.

Vehicle donations: Marty Schwartz, 800-835-3821.

Reaching across borders

Congratulations to Westminster East Middle School's two Spanish classes, which collected more than $138 from their peers to help earthquake victims in El Salvador.

The 71 pupils developed the project after their teacher Denise Diegel told them about the January disaster and suggested they help.

"Anything we can do to help bring these realities home to them helps make Spanish more real for them," Diegel said, noting the pupils had been studying South and Central American geography at the time. "Plus, it brings them a great sense of satisfaction."

The teen-agers divided into groups. Some created posters announcing the drive. Others made announcements over the school's public-address system, and a third group collected change during lunch and study periods.

Another pupil, Maria Dickenson, wrote an article for the school newsletter describing the earthquake and the group's effort to help those in need.

All donations have been sent to Catholic Relief Services, which is coordinating the relief effort in El Salvador, Diegel said.

Shopping for the kids

Gently used can mean new for shoppers at the Kids Consignment Sale from 7 a.m. to noon Saturday at First United Presbyterian Church, 65 Washington Road, Westminster.

Baby equipment; school, dress and play clothes; and toys will be sold at the church's sixth annual event.

Proceeds benefit the church's Christian Preschool and Kindergarten Program.

Information: 410-751-7420.

Ringing in spring

The talented tones of handbell musicians will be presented at the Young Ringers Handbell Festival Conference at 4 p.m. Saturday at Cranberry Station Elementary, Cranberry Road in Westminster.

The conference is sponsored by the Westminster Ringers, an educational and nonprofit organization that promotes the art of ringing English handbells.

Information: 410-848-5482.

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