Getting his 1997 black Ford Ranger was the best thing that ever happened to Robert O’Connor.
O’Connor, of Nunda, said when his transmission quit on his 1989 Chevrolet Cavalier, an employer referred him to Catholic Charities of Livingston County, which runs an auto-repair program. O’Connor soon learned the agency also has a used-auto program, which provides donated vehicles to those in need.
“I got the vehicle I always wanted, and being a single parent, that was all that I ever need," O’Connor said. "You couldn’t ask for a better organization in the world.”
O’Connor said not only did Catholic Charities of Livingston County help him get the pickup truck he dreamed of, but Wheels for Work Director Carol Gibson-Farley also drove him to and from the Department of Motor Vehicles so he could get his paperwork finalized.
The agency places such a high importance on its Wheels for Work recipients, Gibson-Farley said, because in Livingston County not having a car can mean not having a job.
That’s why Gibson-Farley is so elated that the Wheels for Work program is celebrating five years of helping people get around to their jobs. As part of the celebration, the program recently raffled a donated car. Raffle proceeds benefitted the program, which provides cars, car repairs, auto loans and a repair fund to people who are at up to 200 percent of the federal poverty level.
The program also provides free car seats, snow tires, driver’s education, AAA memberships, transportation passes, defensive-driving courses or help with insurance costs to those who qualify. To qualify, recipients must be eligible for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families or be able to work 35 hours a week and have at least one child under 18 in the home.
Gibson-Farley said she’s most often helping the people who do not qualify for other forms of public assistance because they have jobs but cannot afford their transportation costs. For example, recipients in a two-person household must make less than $25,660.
In 2005, the program helped 39 families whose average annual income was less than $16,000. The program helped with 11 auto repairs, nine auto-insurance payments, four auto loans, seven child car seats and 12 driver-instruction services.
Often, people who are in need don’t seek out safe-driving services such as free car seats or a driver-education program because they may have unregistered vehicles, and they are afraid of getting in trouble, Gibson-Farley said.
Before the Wheels for Work program, Catholic Charities of Livingston County offered a program called Auto Dream, but the program lost its Department of Social Services funding and had to be scrapped, Gibson-Farley said. Wheels for Work operates with a $56,000 state grant from the Office of Temporary Disability Assistance, and is self-sustaining because it receives donated cars and services from local businesses. Some cars are paired with people who do not have any cars, she said, and these people commit to repaying low-cost auto loans. Money from the loans is then used to assist people who need help paying for car repairs.
“It’s good because it teaches them responsibility,” Gibson-Farley said.
If a donated car’s maintenance and fuel costs would be too high, then the car is sold at auction and the money is funneled to the program’s other services, such as auto loans and repairs, she said. Referrals come from a variety of sources, including the state Department of Labor and the ARC.
Wheels for Work recipients also are counseled in budgeting, and Gibson-Farley goes over each person’s budget to make sure that no other luxuries could be cut out of it. Also, she makes sure that recipients can afford car payments, so those payments won’t add to the recipient’s financial problems.
The program also can help young drivers learn how to drive while providing a safe, licensed car for them to be instructed in, a licensed driver to ride with them as they seek a learner’s permit, and a registered and insured vehicle for them to use when taking a road test.
Gibson-Farley noted that in the rural county, cars are needed to get to doctor’s appointments, grocery stores and the Laundromat.
“In this county, you can’t go from town to town without a car,” she said.
Gibson-Farley said the closures of several big industries and the seasonal nature of others has led to a great need for the Wheels for Work services in Livingston County.
“I’ve seen a definite demand as the cost of living keeps going up and the cost of gasoline goes up,” Gibson-Farley said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: For more information on the Wheels for Work program, call Carol Gibson-Farley at 585/658-4466, ext. 15.