For many Americans, having a job and helping their communities requires reliable transportation. That’s why Second Chances Garage in Frederick, Md., has been working for a decade to refurbish donated vehicles into wheels for those who need them most.
“If you have your own car, it can be easy to take it for granted. But, if you’ve ever had to coordinate share rides or bus schedules, you understand how tough it is,” says John Grupenhoff, sales and service manager at Second Chances Garage.
Since opening its doors in 2010, the nonprofit has provided more than 1,000 cars to those in need who might not otherwise be able to own their own vehicle. The cars are typically donated by community members and then repaired as necessary by the shop’s mechanics and Gov. Thomas Johnson High School apprentices. The refurbished cars are then donated or sold at extremely reduced prices to those who need them the most but cannot afford them.
To celebrate their 10th anniversary, the garage teamed up with auto repair specialist and influencer Charles Sanville to refurbish and donate Sanville’s 2005 Volkswagen Passat wagon.
“The Passat had been a staple in our family for years,” Sanville said. “We drove up and down the East Coast in it [and] brought our daughter home from the hospital in it.”
Over time, the family acquired newer Volkswagen models and the Passat sat in the garage gathering dust. Sanville planned to fix it up, but after some time he decided the best course of action was to pay it forward and pass the vehicle on to a deserving driver.
He knew he had made the right choice when he met Shimaine Brandford, a Frederick resident who had not been able to fully meet the demands of her job without a car. A caregiver for the elderly, Brandford told Second Chances the refurbished Passat would help her drive her senior clients to medical appointments, stores and social gatherings.
“What I loved about her story was that at no point in time did she mention herself. It was all about what this car would allow her to do for other people,” says Sanville.
In late-January, he trucked the 15-year-old Passat from his home in Raleigh, N.C., to Frederick, Md. He visited the shop for four days in February to help complete repairs and mentor the garage’s apprentices. The car was in good shape but needed some work before it went to a new home.
Repairs included replacing the timing belt, brakes and battery, suspension work, fixing oil leaks and changing engine mounts.
The garage, with the help of its supporters, completed the mechanical work and provided the new owner with an additional six months of auto labor, should she need it, and free oil changes on the vehicle for life.
The community response was also inspiring. After the collaboration was made public, around 50 people drove in – some from as far as 6 to 8 hours away – to visit the shop and help with the repairs.
“It was a reminder that you can do something beyond writing a check,” Sanville said. “There are other ways to help individuals get the help they need to get their life back on track.”
Likewise, after Sanville posted a video on his YouTube channel, “The Humble Mechanic” – which has more than 375,000 subscribers – fans reached out to the garage to offer financial support and expressed interest in donating their own vehicles. Some viewers even asked for tips on how they could start their own low-cost garages in their communities.
As for Brandford, the Passat has already proven to be a lifeline. She recently told the shop she has been able to help her patients weather the COVID-19 crisis and is working six days a week to help her clients get the support they need.
“It’s community helping community,” Grupenhoff said.