TheRev New Reader
6/13/21 3:47 p.m.

In a previous post, I mentioned that I’ve recently left my 17-year career as a pastor to do automotive charity full-time. A commenter asked me to share a little about the system we’ve developed for reducing poverty through the gift of reliable automobiles. So here goes.

Three and a half years ago my wife and I founded OnRamp ( a 501c3 in the Brazos Valley of Texas to provide reliable transportation to people in need to get them on the road to self-sufficiency and share with them the grace of God. We figured we’d give away a few cars a year. We gave away number 70 last week - hence the career change to do this full-time.

Here are a few key lessons we’ve learned that have made this work possible and that you are welcome to take and use in your own communities.

Lesson 1: This charitable work has only proven sustainable because of a critical decision we made from day one: we don’t take any clients directly. No one can come to me and ask for a car. Instead, all clients come through sponsorship from local charities (e.g. Habitat for Humanity, the Food Bank, etc.), school districts, health-care providers, and houses of faith. Sponsors must have known the applicant for at least six-months and must be willing to walk with the applicant through our interviewing process. This ensures that we are getting applicants who are receiving holistic care from their sponsors. A reliable car will not “save the day” if that’s the only service provided to a family attempting to escape crisis or generational poverty. So the key is to partner the gift of a reliable vehicle with the long-term, multi-faceted care provided by the sponsoring organizations (in other words: let car guys do what car guys do best and let the sponsors do what they do best!)

Lesson 2: The gifted vehicle needs to provide four-years minimum reliable service to change a family’s trajectory. Studies have shown that gifting unreliable vehicles or vehicles that only remain reliable for a short time actually has a net-negative impact on a family in need because it accustoms them to rely on a vehicle and then fails them before they can save enough for a replacement vehicle. In other words, you are actually hurting a family’s long-term prospects if you give them a vehicle that is only likely to last one year, or that will cost them greatly to maintain. So our goal for all the vehicles we give is five years of reliable service. Our average expenditure per vehicle for purchase, preparatory maintenance, and tax and title is approximately $7000.

Lesson 3: Support the client for the first year to help them get a leg up on savings, the key metric of success. OnRamp budgets an additional $3000 per client in order to provide a 12 month warranty on the donated vehicle. In other words, we pay for all maintenance and repair for the first year. During that time, we follow up regularly with the client to teach them how to care for their vehicle and to remind them that the purpose of the 12-month warranty is to free them to save all spare funds in a “rainy day” account. Studies have shown that our target clientele can easily fall off their path towards self-sufficiency if they incur a significant unexpected expense and haven’t built up savings. Most are not able to qualify for affordable loans due to bad credit and few assets. Therefore, their only recourse is predatory lending or default, either of which can destroy their financial future. So we do everything we can to help them build their savings. For our first 40 clients, their average savings account went from $20 when we met them to over $800 at the end of the 12 months, which is a game changer in attaining financial health.

There’s much more that I could share with anyone interested, but those are the top 3 lessons that can help car people like us make a measurable, long-term impact on poverty in our communities. Thus far, OnRamp has grown from my wife and I to a team of two dozen, with a couple of us now on staff. We’ve accelerated to almost one car donated per week and are working towards our first Affiliate expansion in the Dallas area later this summer. We hope to eventually help like-minded people launch OnRamp’s throughout the United States since there are so few charities addressing this substantial need.

I’ll leave you with the results of a national study conducted about a decade ago. This is why we do what we do. "Automobile ownership has a greater impact on a person’s chances of being employed than having a high school diploma and is the greatest indicator of the quality and likelihood of a person’s employment" (Lichtenwalter, Koeske, & Sales, 2006; Fletcher et al., 2010)

Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter)
Pete Gossett (Forum Supporter) MegaDork
6/13/21 6:49 p.m.

In reply to TheRev :

This is incredible - props to you & your wife for doing this!!!

John Welsh
John Welsh Mod Squad
6/13/21 8:02 p.m.

I deal with medicaid patients(financial assistance medical) every day.  I find what your doing very interesting and have great respect for you doing it.  What you wrote, addresses a lot of what I wonder about (and admittedly still wonder some more.)  

I always say that buying a car is the easy and cheap part.  The real financial burden is the keeping the car. Keeping it insured, keeping it legal, keeping it repaired, keeping it fueled, etc.  


TheRev New Reader
6/13/21 8:08 p.m.
John Welsh said:

I always say that buying a car is the easy and cheap part.  The real financial burden is the keeping the car. Keeping it insured, keeping it legal, keeping it repaired, keeping it fueled, etc.  

You are exactly right, and this is why most of the vehicle-donation charities in the US don't make the long-term impact they hope for. We were fortunate to have a Texas A&M Bush Graduate School research study of our work, comparing it to similar efforts throughout the country and this was one of the most important findings - that a gift of a vehicle without ongoing support or to a client without the realistic means to maintain it for four years is nearly useless and can even be damaging. We actually do extensive financial fitness evaluation and budget counseling and only accept clients into our program with the proven ability to afford not just liability insurance, but full coverage. That's an absolure requirement b/c it protects the investment and their longterm self-sufficiency. The result is that there are many people not yet able to qualify for our help. But there are still plenty who do. It's all about the long-term play, not the short-term photo-op.

travellering HalfDork
6/13/21 8:36 p.m.

Kudos for the work you are doing.   I do have to ask though, did spellcheck do a funny, or is there actually such a thing as predatory maintenance?  If so, I have some gremlins I'd like to sic these predators on...

TheRev New Reader
6/13/21 9:15 p.m.
travellering said:

I do have to ask though, did spellcheck do a funny, or is there actually such a thing as predatory maintenance?  If so, I have some gremlins I'd like to sic these predators on...

Ha! Fixed. Meant "preparatory maintenance"

kazoospec UberDork
6/13/21 9:48 p.m.


Since you have a platform via your charity, can I make a follow up suggestion?  If you have a "bully pulpit" (so to speak) with community leaders in your area, use it to pressure them to return drivers ed to public schools, or at least make it accessible through public schools.  I totally agree that reliable transportation is one of the most difficult portions of the journey out of generational poverty.  I'd say that a licensed driver in the family is actually the first step of that process.  Since drivers ed has been removed from the public schools, there's a whole generation of people who have never had drivers training.  It's bad enough that they've never been taught some of the content of drivers ed (road rules, basic vehicle safety inspections, how to get a drivers license and basic vehicle operating skills), what's worse is that most of them drive anyway, without a license, in unlicensed & uninsured vehicles, with a sub-par skill set and little actual knowledge of traffic laws.  By the time they get serious about getting a license (if they ever do), they've usually piled up a couple dozen no license/driving suspended or ineligible convictions, along with a grab bag of accidents and moving violations.  At that point, they owe thousands in unpaid fines and are basically uninsurable.  Not to mention, encounters with police tend to take a negative tone when, "Can I see your license please?" is answered by "I don't have one."  The simple fact is, a lot of families can't afford several hundred dollars for driver's ed, and even if they were able to, have no ability to get a new driver the "hours" necessary to advance in most state's licensing schemes.  

Bless you for the work you're doing.  Just a suggestion for a "next step".  


TheRev New Reader
6/14/21 9:23 a.m.

In reply to kazoospec :

Very good idea. I happen to know a couple former superintendents of our local ISD and will ask them how we got here and what it'd take to rectify. Thanks for the heads-up.

slefain PowerDork
6/14/21 12:05 p.m.

I used to work with a local mechanic's ministry every month, but that was pre-marriage and pre-kids. Taught me how to manage my anger and stop cussing while I wrenched.

MadScientistMatt UltimaDork
6/14/21 1:07 p.m.
travellering said:

Kudos for the work you are doing.   I do have to ask though, did spellcheck do a funny, or is there actually such a thing as predatory maintenance?  If so, I have some gremlins I'd like to sic these predators on...

Here's an example of predatory maintenance caught on camera.

Seriously, TheRev, thank you for sharing what you've learned and all the help you've done your community.

wake74 Reader
6/14/21 3:56 p.m.

Kudos to you for the work you are doing. I am involved with a charity that works in Nicaragua. Part of their mission is drilling wells. It takes them a long period of time with the community like 2 years before they deem  it ready for a well. Forming and training a water co-op type setup and ensuring there is a manager / maintenance guy. Drilling a well is easy. Ensuring it still works 5 years later is much harder. I don't recall the statistic but it was shocking how many wells that get drilled by rich Americans in third world countries don't last any longer than the first maintenance issue. 

TheRev New Reader
6/14/21 5:56 p.m.

In reply to wake74 :

Yep. Sustainability is a huge issue in charitable work. It's something we try to measure and continually improve.

Chesterfield Reader
6/14/21 9:50 p.m.

In reply to TheRev :

This is very true. I have worked with a religious organization doing both short-term and long-term work with indigenous people in Panama and Arizona, and the struggles with sustainability can be long lasting. In multiple cases they still relied on outside groups to keep things maintained and functioning. Some needs could be be met immediately and needed no follow-up, but others we should have started with better preparation and training so they would developed more understanding and ownership of what they were being given.

1SlowVW HalfDork
6/16/21 8:13 a.m.

In reply to TheRev :

I am sure I read something about a fish or fishing in a book once that related to this. 

TheRev New Reader
6/19/21 2:47 p.m.

In reply to 1SlowVW :

Yes, I suppose you could use the fishing metaphor here. Our perspective is that we are, in essence, giving the person the rod and reel. They know how to fish - aka get and hold down a job - but don't have the necessary tool that's required in our part of the country: reliable transportation. So we gift the "rod and reel" to them and support them in their use of it for the first 12 months so they can get back to fishing! It's a win for the clients, their kids, and the community as it gets more workers to work and more kids to school, doctors appointments, and educational activities.

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