Help on Wheels: Good News Mountaineer Garage
Posted Friday, June 6, 2008 ; 12:50 PM


CHARLESTON -- Barbara Bayes wants you to think back to your first car.

If you’re like most West Virginians, mom and dad had a hand in the deal — if not buying the vehicle outright, then in providing food and shelter while you toiled to save up for the big purchase.

“In most of West Virginia, it’s awfully hard to hold down a job if you don’t have a car to get back and forth to work,” explains Bayes, the executive director of the non profit Good News Mountaineer Garage, a statewide effort headquartered in Charleston. “When West Virginia University did a study on why low-income residents have trouble keeping a job, the No. 1 reason was a lack of reliable transportation.”

For those whose parents lack the means to help with a first car or for anyone living on a budget in a rural area without access to transportation, a vicious cycle can quickly take hold.

“If you don’t have a car, you can’t work, and if you’re not working, you’re sure not able to save up to buy a car,” said Bayes, a former social worker who heads Good News, a comprehensive program that, since its founding in 1999, has helped more than 700 West Virginia residents who had the drive to work but no wheels to get them there.

“I love the way John Chapman, who recently retired from the state Chamber of Commerce and serves on our board of directors, describes what we do,” Bayes said. “He says we’re doing economic development — one job at a time.”

The program works this way: Individuals and businesses donate vehicles that are working or can be repaired without a big investment. Good News mechanics get them road-ready. Then cars are matched to in-need families identified by the state Department of Health and Human Resources.

“We’ve been very fortunate because there are so many people in West Virginia who want to help their neighbors,” Bayes said. “Rather than sell a car or trade it in, they’ll give the car to us. They know this is a way to break the cycle of poverty in West Virginia — to help people help themselves.”

In exchange for a vehicle, donors get not only a federal income tax deduction but also may qualify for a direct state tax credit for half the value of the car or truck.

“Most of our cars come from everyday people,” Bayes said. “A lot of times, the total tax benefit ends up being very close to what they would have gotten from selling the car or trading it in. This way, even middle-income people are financially able to help.”

Bayes said the donations literally change lives.

“One woman we recently worked with had been walking along a railroad to take her baby to her sitter and then her older child to preschool,” she said. “Then she caught a bus to go to school to get her GED and then repeated the whole process every evening.

“After she got her car, she called and said, ‘You have no idea how much I appreciate this.’ Having a car has made her life so much better and already opened up so many possibilities for her family.”

No car lasts forever, of course, but Bayes’ organization provides recipients with low-cost maintenance and repairs to help the vehicles stay on the road as long as possible.

“We want our recipients to be able to work for a couple of years without worrying about a car payment,” she said. “Everyone we work with has gone through job training. They get help with budgeting. We try to give cars that get good gas mileage to those who have to drive the most miles to work and the gas-guzzlers to those who don’t drive as far.

“We offer them help in paying for six months of liability insurance so that they’re starting off with a solid foundation.”

Earlier this year, Good News was honored for its work by Gov. Joe Manchin and members of the state’s Martin Luther King Jr. Holiday Commission, who presented the group with the 2008 “Living the Dream” service award during a luncheon at the state Cultural Center.

“We don’t toot our own horn a lot, but we’re very proud of the work we’re doing to help people struggling to get out of poverty,” Bayes said. “So often, West Virginia has this image as so far behind the rest of the country, but in this respect we’re ahead of most other states. We’ve found a way to get people off welfare and to become taxpayers. And it’s West Virginians helping other West Virginians. It’s a win-win for all of us.”

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