Having a reliable vehicle is a big stress relief to Wallaceburg’s Donna Lashmore, and it’s all thanks to a new program through the United Way of Chatham-Kent.
Well, along with a lot of helping hands from local businesses, a high school and the community.
Lashmore took possession of a 2011 Mazda 3 on June 5 at Chatham Mazda courtesy of the Rebuilding Wheels Rebuilding Lives program.
The Wallaceburg woman works in Chatham, and her old vehicle, which has 260,000 kilometres on it, has given her grief on the highway.
“This is huge for me. It’s been hard to get back and forth. It’s great to have something reliable, especially in the winter,” Lashmore said. “This will bring down the stress level.”
That’s something very important for Lashmore, who suffered a heart attack a couple of years ago.
“It was all stress related,” she said.
The Rebuilding Wheels Rebuilding Lives program is designed to help people who are the working poor – the ones who can often fall through the cracks.
Steve Pratt, CEO of the United Way of Chatham-Kent, said the working poor are the people who earn just enough money to not qualify for various supports, but not enough to truly get by.
“We see folks who want to ask for help, but they have too much to be able to access the supports in the community,” he said.
Pratt said the non-profit organization has been working on the Rebuilding program for more than a year, after learning the United Way in Windsor offered it.
The first thing to do was to find partners. James Stonehouse, a teacher at John McGregor Secondary School, and some of his auto mechanic students jumped on board.
“A high school in Windsor started doing this several years ago. I thought, ‘We could do this.’ Now, we hope to share it with Sarnia and across the province,” Stonehouse said.
His students worked on the Mazda 3, donated by Chatham Mazda to the program, changing sparkplugs and working on other repairs and detailing throughout the vehicle.
“Our students learned some very good tech skills,” he said. “You can’t get more hands on than this.”
Adam Lally, operations manager for the Lally Auto Group, which includes Chatham Mazda and Lally Ford, two of the participants in the Rebuilding program, said he saw the potential of this program immediately.
“It’s good for businesses to be members of the community. It’s good to be giving back,” he said. “I really liked the idea. Acts of kindness are a powerful thing.”
Lally added that he also likes the fact local high school students are involved and are experiencing hands-on learning in a skilled trade.
“There’s a severe shortage of people in the skilled trades. It’s a great program for these kids to get involved in,” he said. “They work on something that can help change lives.”
As for how Lashmore came to be the first recipient of a vehicle from the Rebuilding program, Pratt said the United Way reached out to Family Service Kent to help identify someone in need.
Brad Davis, executive director of that agency, said Family Service Kent staffer Lindsay Polley developed an application process.
“We looked at who was the most in need,” Polley said.
It was another piece in the teamwork puzzle.
Pratt said the community effort is appreciated.
“Advancing the common good happens one family, one person, at a time,” he said.
Davis sees the program continuing to help people in Chatham-Kent for years to come.
“It’s an amazing partnership here,” he said.
No one is more amazed right now than Lashmore, who said she was awed at the work that went into the vehicle.
“It’s absolutely beautiful. I am shocked,” she said.
Lashmore said her first priority with the new car was to re-familiarize herself with a manual transmission.
“It’s been 30 years since I drove a stick shift.”
As for her old vehicle, she has plans for it. Lashmore said she wants to gift it to her son, who just graduated university, and could use it for getting around in Windsor.
“My little car is great if you just drive it in the city,” she said.
To learn more about Rebuilding Wheels Rebuilding Lives, contact TJ Johnston at TJ@uwock.ca 519-354-0430.