If you need a car
Lesley Broff’s father was rightly wary of this deal on a used car, because any deal that sounds too good to be true generally is.
But as a mental health peer counselor, Ms. Broff had been helping a client find a car so he could go back to work. That’s when she stumbled upon Community Auto.
Founded in 2003, it’s a nonprofit arm of North Hills Community Outreach. Its mission could hardly be simpler: Acquire cars through donations, make any needed repairs, and then sell them to working people so they can get to their jobs or find better ones.
When Ms. Broff called, she was working 20 hours a week and so didn’t meet the 25-hour minimum. But then she found a new job that gave her 30 hours. Having also the $2,000 minimum for a buy, she submitted an application last September.
Last December, she drove away in a 2006 Nissan Sentra with 99,000 miles on it. She’d paid $3,100. That deal might not blow your hair back, but it included taxes, title and registration, a two-year warranty, a year of AAA coverage and $420 worth of gas cards that are only now about to run out.
She has saved money and changed her life in the bargain. I rode with her on her short commute between her new apartment in Swissvale and her job at Community Living and Support Services at the other end of the borough, and talked about what the car has meant.
She moved from Section 8 housing on a bus line to a nicer market-rate place farther up the hill. She was able to get to vestibular rehabilitation therapy in Monroeville to help with chronic migraine issues. That, in turn, made it easier to deal with her course load as she seeks her master’s degree in social work at the University of Pittsburgh. And she landed an internship with Family Services of Western Pennsylvania in Harmar — an unreachable commute without a car.
She now can visit her uncle, aunt and cousin — the only family this Massachusetts native has here — without them having to drive her to and from family dinners. They’d been supportive since she moved here after graduating from the University of Pennsylvania 14 years ago.
“It feels really good with my family. It takes away some of that guilt you naturally feel.’’
Both Ms. Broff, 36, and Laronda Daniels, 48, who bought a 1999 Cadillac Seville SLS in April 2015, say that what sold them on the legitimacy of their deals was the time they were allowed to have with the cars before buying them.
Ms. Daniels, of Baldwin Borough, said she went online at communityauto.org after hearing about it from a friend who’d bought a car. The online application was a snap, the staff proved friendly and helpful, and knowing the sale would take months allowed her to save up.
When it was time to kick the tires, Community Auto let these women do far more than that. Both said they were allowed to have the car for hours and take it a mechanic of their choosing.
For Ms. Daniels, having the car allowed her to apply for a promotion at BNY Mellon that required getting to work at odd hours. She got the job, though lost it in a wave of company layoffs there soon after.
The car was nonetheless a godsend because it allowed her to take her older sister, Roxann Mills, to successful chemotherapy treatments. Ms. Daniels since has found a new Downtown job at PNC Bank, and she’ll again need the ar at odd hours.
We have designed our world so that a car is simply a necessity for most of us. Some years ago, when she didn’t have one, Ms. Broff needed food stamps and Section 8 housing. Now she’s juggling school and work and doesn’t need either.
She’d love to donate a car someday.
“So many people have helped me, I just want to do my part as well,’’ she said.
Community Auto receives grants to give clients AAA Plus membership and baby seats to customers who need them, but it’s otherwise self-funding and self-sufficient. It can never have enough cars, but can promise the maximum tax deduction once a car finds a client. Tim Brown, the program manager, says they’ve sold 434 cars since the program began. The average wait for a qualified applicant is six weeks.
The best charities are the ones that end with the clients not wanting or needing charity anymore. This one sees to be the classic hand up rather than handout. For more information on donating or buying a car, call Tim Brown at 724-443-8300 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Brian O’Neill: email@example.com or 412-263-1947 or Twitter @brotheroneill