Organization working to expand program that provides transportation to people in need

NOW: Organization working to expand program that provides transportation to people in need


ST. JOSEPH, Mich. — A Berrien County organization that provides reliable transportation for people in need is expanding its efforts.

New Heights Christian Community Development Association wants to buy a 7,000-square-foot building, formerly known as Gary’s Gearhead Garage, on M-139 in St. Joseph and hire a full-time auto technician.

The organization says this move allows them to provide vehicles and mechanical repairs to more low income families.

Ten years ago New Heights started an auto service shop.

“People donate vehicles to us,” said Executive Director Chris Britton. “We fix them up and then provide them to individuals in need for $500. We’ll also provide critical repairs [for the cost of parts].”

The program has helped 120 families since it started. Britton says the new building provides the space to help 100 individuals each year.

Eau Claire mother Tami Nichols applied to buy a car from New Service Auto after her car died.

“I had a lot going on in my life,” said Nichols. “My daughter was sick.”

Nichols couldn’t afford a replacement.

“I would have to cancel my daughters doctor appointments,” said Nichols. “Find different ways to work and the grocery store.”

However, after being approved by New Heights and taking budgeting classes, Nichols received a Dodge Dakota Sport pickup truck in April.

“It made us feel a lot more secure just knowing we had a vehicle to get where we needed to go,” said Nichols.

“When we either provide a vehicle or we help someone get their vehicle back on the road, we’re not just helping that one family,” said Britton. “We’ve heard stories where, ‘Oh man I was able to get to work and now I’m also giving other coworkers a ride to work,’ so when we help one household, we’re actually helping two or three.”

Britton explains a lack of transportation is one of the biggest employment barriers in Berrien County.

“It’s a major barrier to people gaining, maintaining, and increasing their employment and so our goal is to help remove that piece, remove that barrier so people can sustain a job and therefore take care of and provide for their families,” said Britton.

Donations and opening auto services to the general community will pay for the expanded efforts according to Britton.

New Heights plans to partner with Kinexus and United Way of Southwest Michigan to find people in need.

“Maintaining a job is important, but it’s way beyond that,” said Kinexus Senior Director of Business and Innovation Duane Berger.

Half of the 600 people Kinexus helped within the last two years listed a lack of transportation as their biggest employment barrier.

“By having a car or somebody they know having a car, they can get to work,” said Berger. “We just mentioned housing’s a barrier. If they have transportation they can live anywhere and get to work. It helps the holistic family life.”

Benton Harbor mother Shanice Shannon knows that struggle first hand.

”I would say a couple years I’ve been without a vehicle,” said Shannon. “Can’t work anymore because I don’t have transportation. Can’t have daycare, can’t go to the school.”

That should change when she receives a van in a few weeks.

“I get to get a job which I’ve been waiting for,” said Shannon. “I just have so much I want to do. I want to volunteer.”

Proof that this expansion could drive an impact far beyond the final destination.

“It’s going to help us go places,” said Shannon.  

“It’s a good thing this church did this and followed through with this to the point where they’re getting this place,” said Nichols. “They’re helping.”

New Heights CCDA still needs to raise $25,000 by July 26 to finalize the purchase of the building. All donations will be matched up to the total project costs by the Whirlpool Foundation and the Berrien Community Foundation.

To donate or learn more about the garage click here.

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