Fremont Car Ministry
NC3 Interview with Sheri Byers.
Sheri, please tell us about your role and the organization you work for.
My name is Sheri Byers and I am the coordinator of the Fremont Car Ministry, a position I have held for the past 17 years. The Car Ministry serves low-income Newaygo County workers in their efforts to obtain and maintain employment by providing them with cars and car repairs.
How did the Ministry get started and who is involved?
The Ministry began in 1993 when a gentleman approached one of our churches with a need for a car. DHHS got involved, identified the ongoing lack of transportation in this rural area as a major barrier for low-income workers, and assisted in the implementation of the program. Generous grant funding was received from the Fremont Area Community Foundation (FACF) and continues to this day.
We are a Ministry of the Newaygo County Christian Reformed Churches and are in our 28th year of service. Our churches have supported this Ministry throughout these years with volunteers, matching grant funds and prayers. We operate with a committee of 11 volunteers with most members having served 15 years or more. The verse, “To Whom much is given, much is expected“ guides us in our mission to utilize our personal resources to serve neighbors in need.
What does the Car Ministry do and how many people do you serve?
The Car Ministry provides used cars for those who cannot afford to purchase one, and car repairs for those who own their own vehicle. We have 2 main criteria: the applicant must be a Newaygo County resident, and working 20 or more hours per week. They must have a financial need, although we don’t adhere to specific income guidelines. In a typical year (non-COVID), we assist 70-80 families and individuals.
A typical resident we serve is “Serena,” a 34-year-old single mother of a 2-year-old son. She was recently living in Hope 101 housing to help her in her recovery from substance abuse. According to her case manager, Serena is a true success story, has worked extremely hard to overcome her addiction, to have her child returned by CPS, and to hold a steady job. She is involved with a local church and working diligently to stay on track. It was a privilege to assist this young mother with a car to get her to work.
How do you obtain and fix cars?
Finding good used cars is one of the biggest challenges of our Ministry. We typically buy cars from car auctions, but also have relationships with used car dealers and purchase from individual owners. The past year has made it particularly difficult to find vehicles in our price range.
Those needing a car repair complete a repair application, which is submitted with a written estimate of the needed repairs. Our committee has established a $500 maximum for car repairs and they must be completed by an approved mechanic. Committee members assess the need and cost of the repair as well as the amount to be contributed by the applicant. We feel it is important that they take some ownership of this expense, even if it is minimal. The repair is typically completed within one week of approval.
While the purpose of the Ministry is to serve the low-income working population, we do make exceptions for medical or other extenuating circumstances. Over the years the “exceptions” have become somewhat the “rule” and we have had to re-evaluate this. We have instructed agency workers to contact us directly with situations they feel are deserving of an exception. We want to be open to these situations, relying on the insight they have about clients’ circumstances. We work to balance our commitment to the employed, with additional consideration for veterans, the disabled, and foster parents or grandparents caring for children.
How does someone qualify to get a car? What does that process look like?
The process for receiving assistance begins with an application. The application requires information about employment, income sources and monthly expenses. In reviewing the finances of our applicants we find that many are unable to make or follow-through with a household budget. Prior to receiving a car they must complete a budgeting class offered at TrueNorth Community Services in Fremont.
Applications are reviewed by our committee. For those applying for a car, we consider factors such as family size and distance to work, but more importantly whether budgets allow for the added expense of owning a car. We prioritize applicants who are best able to maintain a budget and have a positive work history. Following approval by the committee, a personal visit is scheduled with the applicant in their home. A car is typically provided within 2-3 weeks of this visit.