New Goodwill program provides wheels to work

When Lela Fishe was presented with the keys to her new car Nov. 14, she was beaming as she sat in the driver's seat and started the engine. It was a long journey for her to get this car, a godsend for herself and her three children. A single working mother just out of what she called a "nasty, rough divorce," Fishe has faced many daily struggles without an automobile. With the help of Tacoma Goodwill Industries that is no longer an issue for her. She is getting back on her feet, which Goodwill volunteers aim to do for others in need in Pierce County.

Fishe was the lucky recipient of the first car offered through Goodwill's new Wheels to Work Program, the first program of its type in the county to get affordable used cars to low-income workers and job hunters. The cars are not given to recipients; they are sold at a reasonable price to those who meet certain eligibility requirements and complete Goodwill's Financial Literacy course to help prepare the financing and take care of any credit issues individuals may have. A committee selects which applicants will receive a loan.

"These are people who are working just under the threshhold of being eligible for typical financing from a car dealership," said Tacoma Goodwill CEO Terry Hayes.

Cars sell for no more than $3,000. Sound Community Bank provides the low-interest loan with most car payments at about $60 a month. Cars have a 60-day warranty and receive a full maintenance inspection from Network Tacoma's Community Garage, which also provides new owners with instructions on the basics of car upkeep. Network Tacoma has been recycling cars for about 10 years.

The city of Tacoma provided the first round of cars for Wheels to Work, eight of them from the city's fleet of autos formerly used by detectives with Tacoma Police Department. Fishe received a hunter green 1998 Ford Taurus LX four-door sedan.

"I can't express how much more this is than just a loan and a car," Fishe said. "This is a step in the right direction for me and my children. This is going to make a huge difference in our lives. [Goodwill] helped me get to where I wanted to go."

Up until the day she took possession of the keys last week, Fishe had to either walk to where she needed to go - like to her job downtown from her home on the Eastside - or coordinate rides with her mom, sister or friends. This posed problems, especially where her young children were concerned. "Just the thought of something happening in the middle of the night, an emergency, was weighing heavily on me," she said.

"As a volunteer, one of the really neat things for me is to see these success stories," said Bob Bruback, vice president of Tacoma Goodwill's board of directors. John Briehl, director of the city's Human Rights and Human Services Department, agreed. "Sometimes in dealing with services it's hard to see the impact of the work we do," he said. "It's kind of a rare occasion that I get to participate in something that's tangible like a car...that's a nice change of pace for me."

"We want to help people go to work," said Hayes, emphasizing that Goodwill Industries provides not just retail shopping outlets but jobs, job training and educational opportunities for disadvantaged and disabled people to help themselves better their lives and those of their children.

Hayes said Tacoma Goodwill volunteers have set a goal to triple the number of clients served over the next five years, from 2,000 to 6,000. She said Wheels to Work is a shining example of how various entities - such as, in this case, an auto repair shop, a bank and city government - can get together and give real assistance to those in need.

"Goodwill staff members were looking out for my best interest," Fishe said. "They wanted me to have a safe, reliable vehicle - one I can count on. I would say Wheels to Work will get you where you want to go."

Hayes put out a call to the community at large for individuals and businesses like car rental companies to step forward and donate used vehicles to the program. She said about 100 applicants came forward for the first set of cars, and she expects this number to grow. She said that even with new Internal Revenue Service guidelines, a person donating to Wheels to Work may be eligible to deduct the full fair market value for the car (consult a tax preparer to determine a specific tax situation). Cars should be in good condition, under 10 years old and under 100,000 miles.

For more information on Wheels to Work, call (253) 314-7791..


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