Social worker Cathy Heying noticed a growing trend among the homeless and unemployed folks she served for nearly a decade at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church in Minneapolis. “At least twice a week, someone would mention car trouble” as a reason for missing a job interview or not getting the kids to day care, says Cathy, 44. “I thought if I could offer car repairs, I could prevent these problems.”
So in 2008, with little more automotive experience than tinkering with her own motorcycle, Cathy signed up for a mechanics program. After two years of juggling a full-time course load and a part-time job, she received an associate’s degree in auto technology from Dunwoody College of Technology.
Then she opened the Lift, a nonprofit garage offering affordable car repair for needy people. “I had no mechanics, no volunteers, and only a few tools,” says Cathy. She operated from a bay in a friend’s garage. But she made it work.
One of Cathy’s first customers, Linda Granger, was unemployed when her social worker referred her to the Lift. Her 20-year-old pickup truck had a new heater, timing belt, and brakes installed by Cathy and a volunteer for $600 total, which Linda is paying off in $20 monthly installments. The same repairs would have cost at least $1,800 at a typical garage.
“There’s no way I could have afforded it otherwise,” says Linda.
“It’s been a hard journey” from social worker to mechanic, says Cathy. “But compared with other people’s struggles, I have nothing to complain about.”