In the spring of 2014, the Urban Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank dedicated to economic and social policy research, released a study that found a strong link between reliable car ownership and economic opportunity for the working poor. The upshot is that for many struggling families, a reliable vehicle is the glue that holds everything together. This is especially true in rural communities, where public transportation isn’t as prevalent and employment opportunities are often many miles apart. A lack of reliable transportation can ultimately have a systemic impact on a person’s life. For people who are financially vulnerable, this can create a ripple effect that impacts food access, employment, health, children’s education, and so on.
We’re lucky in the Upper Valley to have access to a terrific free public transportation service, the Advance Transit bus line. But the bus doesn’t run at nights and on weekends, and the run times and service areas may not always work with a rider’s schedule–particularly when a person works more than one job and only has a few minutes to get from one job to another.
In the fall of 2018, when the Co-op’s auto-repair services expanded from one location to two, our Service Center and Outreach Department teams got together to find ways to give back to the community, a critical component of operating a cooperative business. They realized that if our co-op could subsidize auto-repair services, similar to the way we subsidize food for the financially vulnerable, we could help remove some barriers for our neighbors in need.
The first step was to reach out to our long-time partner, Listen Community Services. Our friends at Listen immediately agreed to partner with us on the idea. Listen first helped us to understand the scope of the need, then they worked with us to develop a program. The Co-op Car Connections program was born.
Listen has offered a similar service for years. As part of Listen’s general fund, the organization supports automotive needs—inspections, repairs, etc.—for its clients when able. However, this fund is used for a variety of other purposes, so there isn’t always a significant budget for auto-repair services. Co-op Car Connections builds on the idea and expands it, taking it to a much broader level.
To pilot the program, our Co-op agreed to offer $500 a month, or about $6,000 per year, worth of repair work to Listen. Listen began offering the service as needed to clients who requested it. In addition, Listen reached out to a variety of community partners to spread the word on the program.
How it works is like this:
To apply, an Upper Valley resident who needs financial assistance with car repairs first works through Listen to get a voucher. He or she then works with the Co-op to schedule an appointment. After the appointment, the voucher is turned in.
To date, we have had five people participating in the program. Most of the vouchers have covered 100 percent of the repair work needed.
Moving forward, we intend to continue growing the program based on the need in our community. The next step of this project will be to look for ways that the community can contribute to a fund, which we hope will expand the reach of the program even further. In the meantime, our Service Center technicians are enjoying the opportunity to put their skills to work for such a good cause, a cause they hope to offer to even more people as time goes on.
My thanks to everyone who worked on this program, particularly our Service Center and Outreach teams who have worked so hard and been so dedicated to making the program successful. Know someone who could use help from Co-op Car Connections? The first step is to contact our friends at Listen at (603) 448-4553 or visit the organization online at listencs.org.
In the meantime, if you want to talk more about this, I’d love to hear from you. Reach out to me anytime. My door is always open.
NOURISH. CULTIVATE. COOPERATE.