Without a reliable car, Christal Simmons wouldn’t be able to get to work, let alone take her three sons to school, doctor’s appointments and church.
Then Simmons learned about Community Auto in Wexford. On Monday, she purchased a low-cost vehicle from the organization.
“I’ve never had a reliable vehicle. It is so freeing to be able to walk out the door and know my car is going to start, and that it is mine,” said Simmons, a single mother who lives in White Township, Beaver County. Simmons has three sons, ages 4, 7 and 10.
CA is one of the programs that operates under the umbrella of North Hills Community Outreach. NHCO assumed ownership of the nonprofit in early 2010, according to Executive Director Faye Morgan.
CA was founded and operated by a small group of community volunteers in 2003. NHCO began assisting CA in 2005. It made sense, said Morgan, for NHCO to assume the program in 2010 to ease the burden on the volunteers and use the name recognition of NHCO to help in soliciting car donations and funding.
Since NHCO assumed ownership, Community Auto has sold 109 cars at very low cost to families and individuals with lower incomes.
Community Auto is housed in the building owned by and next-door to Hub Cap City on Route 19 in Pine Township's portion of Wexford. Ed Holdcroft, owner of Hub Cap City, also serves as Community Auto's car consultant. He was an early volunteer with the program, and he evaluates cars that are donated to CA and performs what Morgan referred to as “car triage.”
Every car donated is used in some fashion, Holdcroft explained.
“I look them over to see what they need—see if we can take them to one of our garages to fix for a client car, if we can take it to auction to sell or if we need to scrap it,” said Holdcroft.
Holdcroft looks at his role as not only using his professional skills after 35 years in the automotive industry, but as a way of serving his community as a Pine Township supervisor.
“We work with the people in Pine and nearby areas. This program is important to our area,” he said.
Money earned from a car sold at auction or scrap is used to fund the program, Morgan said.
Community Auto's manager, Elizabeth Edwards, said the program needs donated cars, as it currently has only two on the lot.
“We have 15 people ready to buy and 33 on the list to take the workshop, and then they will be ready to buy,” she said.
Edwards referred to the car care workshop clients are required to attend after they meet other program requirements. To be eligible to purchase the low-cost vehicles, clients have to either have a job offer “in hand” or be employed for at least 25 hours a week. Clients also must meet criteria for income level, and they must have saved $2,200 to be able to purchase the car.
“We sell the cars at 30 to 40 percent below market value, plus they have a six-month warranty, an AAA membership, car seats if they need them and a full tank of gas,” she said.
Most of the clients are from Allegheny County, while a few, like Simmons, come from surrounding counties.
“We don’t have bus lines to a lot of places here in the North Hills,” said Morgan, “The cars have made it possible for them to get to the jobs, work shift work and in some cases, receive promotions that require them traveling to other areas or locations.”
While most of the programs offered through NHCO offer what Morgan said is “a little bit of help to a lot of people,” the Community Auto program offers “a lot of help to a small number.”
That help can be life-changing.
“With these cars, our clients can get a job, keep a job and maybe get a better job. That makes a world of difference to these families,” said Morgan.
“When I was telling a friend about my new car, I started crying,” she said, “I can’t believe it is mine.”