'I have my independence back:' Woodlawn woman among five selected for low-cost car giveaway

For the first time in two years, in the early afternoon of Sept. 20 Ashley Washington turned the key in the ignition of a car that she could call her own.

“This feels great,” she said, clapping. In the back seat of the 2006 Chevy Malibu, her 1-year-old son, Dillan, giggled at seeing his mother so excited.

Washington, a Woodlawn resident and certified medical assistant for the University of Maryland Community Medical Group in Anne Arundel County, was one of five single parents who were awarded low-cost vehicles from Vehicles for Change and MileOne Autogroup on Thursday.

The five were given the keys to their cars by executives of both organizations and Baltimore County Executive Don Mohler at a brief ceremony at the Heritage Mazda Catonsville dealership on Route 40.

Vehicles for Change, a Halethorpe-based nonprofit, refurbishes donated cars and provides them at low cost to needy families. MileOne Autogroup is a Towson-based company with dozens of dealerships in the region.

The cars, once donated, are refurbished by Vehicles for Change mechanics and then sold to recipients at a cost usually between $850 and $950, said Martin Schwartz, the nonprofit’s president.

Mark Westerman, chief marketing officer for MileOne, said the company has worked with Vehicles for Change for at least five years and enjoys being able to connect with the community because a vehicle can “change a person’s life.”

Even with the potential financial benefits of a tax deduction for a charitable donation, Westerman said, MileOne is not making money when it gives a car to Vehicles for Change.

“It still costs us money, because these are vehicles that we could sell,” he said. MileOne has donated 25 vehicles to be refurbished and distributed by Vehicles for Change in the past year.

Recipients are given a 12-month loan through Sandy Spring Bank to pay off the vehicle, Schwartz said. Vehicles for Change has helped secure vehicles for more than 6,000 families since it was founded in 1999.

Washington, who connected with Vehicles for Change through the Baltimore County Department of Social Services, called her low-cost vehicle a “blessing.”

Until getting behind the wheel of her blue Chevy, Washington had been paying about $800 a month in transportation costs, usually Uber or other ride-sharing services, to get her three children to school and other activities, and to commute between work and home.

She said that amounted to a bit more than half her paycheck.

“I feel like I have my independence back,” Washington said. “I’m looking forward to saving some money.”

An internal study conducted by Vehicles for Change in 2011 showed families that received cars from the organization had an average annual earnings increase of $7,000. The study showed that 98 percent of vehicle recipients were able to take their children to the doctor and 100 percent were able to take children to after-school activities.

Schwartz said that getting vehicles to families can help fight generational poverty, because parents can spend more time with children, increase their earning potential and “take that next step” to provide opportunities for their children.

“[Getting a vehicle] impacts their entire life across the board,” Schwartz said.

For Washington, that impact means she’ll get to her 14-year-old daughter’s volleyball games on time, and that she’ll be to spend more time with her kids in general, rather than constantly loading and unloading car seats from Ubers, buses or the vehicles of friends giving her a ride.

More immediately, receiving the car meant she was able to take Dillan to a doctor’s appointment because he had a cold.

She estimated it would have cost her $25 to take a ride-sharing service from her home to the doctor.

“I feel great about it. I’m just speechless, honestly,” she said. “Really, honestly, no words could explain it.”

cboteler@baltsun.com

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