By Tracie Bettenhaussen

When’s the last time your car was in the shop for a few days? You might’ve had to have your spouse drive you to work, or have a co-worker drop you off at the shop to pick it up.

If you have kids, maybe you had to have your parents loan you a car so you could play chauffeur.

We rely on our wheels, to get us to work, school, and daycare. Imagine not having that convenience. In most cases, having a car is practically a necessity to keeping our jobs.

The Wheels for Work program helps give vehicles to people who can’t afford to get one on their own. CCO, Inc., the charity partner at Community Options, runs a program that accepts used vehicles and gives them to people who need them.

Sarah Carlson, CCO executive director, says a car can be the one possession that gets a family back on its feet.

“We give vehicles to people who are employed, working on getting employed, or going to school so they can be employed,” she says. “When people are constantly struggling with transportation to hold down a job, they can’t focus on everything else they need to do to be successful.”

Sarah says Wheels for Work is meant to help people who are on the path to self-sufficiency.

“They are taking steps to controlling their life. Being able to work is empowering,” Sarah explains. “Some circumstances are out of people’s control: their health or the health of a child could be bad, maybe a domestic abuse situation forced a client to leave everything behind. We receive referrals from other agencies who connect us with people in need.”

She says one of her recent clients is a woman who is going to school to be a certified nursing assistant.

“A lot of jobs like that are shift work. We do have the bus in town, and it’s great we have public transportation, but the hours the bus runs are not helpful for shift workers. The earliest routes begin at 7 a.m. and end early in the evening,” Sarah says. “If you have a child to drop off at daycare, you can see how that system is not going to be helpful to you. An owned vehicle gives you the independence you need.”

Another client was a family who had two foster children, and were asked to take in another four children to keep the siblings together.

Sarah Carlson

“So, suddenly this was a family of six kids. We were able to get them a van and make their circumstances much more manageable,” Sarah says.

CCO partners with Missouri Slope Areawide United Way and The Bush Foundation for funding, in addition to fundraising channels. Sarah says CCO also partners with local car dealers and mechanic shops, who donate vehicles, or fix them up for free or at a reduced rate.

“I really call myself a professional beggar,” she says. “I have never had a single business turn me down when I ask for help. Getting to see the generosity of this community is one of my greatest joys.”

Wheels for Work has been donating cars since December 31, 2013; they have matched 54 vehicles with recipients in that time. Sarah says they could match many more, and encourages people to donate rather than sell their used cars.

Those who donate their car to CCO get the maximum tax write-off. When a donated vehicle is too far beyond repair, Sarah sends it to Johnson’s Wrecking, where the car is scrapped and CCO is given cash.

“The money then goes toward repairing another vehicle,” she says.

Sarah says her best days are the days she is able to turn over the keys to a new car owner.

“These people cry, it means so much to them,” she says. “In many cases, they don’t own anything before this, and now they have the title to a vehicle in their name. That is a powerful moment, and can be difficult to imagine until you put yourself in their shoes.”   

Visit ccoinc.net if you’re interested in donating a car to the Wheels for Work program.


Tracie Bettenhausen is a senior staff writer/editor at Basin Electric. She has generously opened her home to two once-foster, now-adopted kitties, Basil and Sweet Pea.