Good News Mountaineer Garage helps mom get back on her feet

By Davin White
Staff writer ... January 2, 2010

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- In 2001, Stacy Gunter was in a bad situation in Jacksonville, Fla., at about the time her daughter was born. Her car was repossessed and she left Florida with just a suitcase and a few outfits for the baby and herself.

"I needed to come back to West Virginia and get some support from my parents," she said.

She always wanted to go to nursing school, and was accepted into St. Mary's School of Nursing in Huntington. But she worried about the logistics. Her parents -- who helped out with the baby -- lived in Charleston and "there was no way I was going to be able to get to and from school."

It was difficult for Gunter to work -- but she did a little bit -- and sometimes returned home to her daughter at 10 p.m.

"I did end up going on assistance with the state, which was kind of hard for me to do," she said.

Knowing Gunter's plans, her caseworker made her a referral through the Good News Mountaineer Garage.

She ended up with a donated 1995 Mazda 626, and was able to attend nursing school in Huntington.

"It was a great little car," she said. "It took me all the way through nursing school."

Over time, Gunter became a registered nurse and worked for some time at Cabell Huntington Hospital. Once she got back on her feet, she ended up selling the Mazda to her cousin for $1.

She now lives in Nashville with her daughter and, while working as a nurse, she's also pursuing a Ph.D. in nursing at Vanderbilt University. She's on her way to becoming a nurse practitioner in psychiatry.

"So really it helped two families. It was awesome," she said. "I don't know how I would have been able to get it done. I really don't think I would have been able to do it."

Barbara Bayes, executive director of the Good News Mountaineer Garage, said Gunter's story is one of many examples of how nearly 1,100 donated cars have helped people lead productive lives and become economically self-sufficient.

"We also do have people like this who -- what a loss for society if they hadn't been given a chance," Bayes said.

Of those who have received a Good News-donated car in the past decade, only 7 percent didn't follow through with their plan to be economically self-sufficient, Bayes said. Most people who get a vehicle are working, but some are enrolled in a training program.

Also, 70 percent of those who receive a car are totally off public assistance within one year, she said.

The garage, a nonprofit group founded in 1999, has origins as a two-county pilot project started by the state Department of Health and Human Resources, Bayes said. The donation program remains partially funded by the DHHR.

Many who receive the donated cars do not pay for them, although some do. Bayes said officials with the Good News Mountaineer Garage might present the West Virginia program to New Mexico's state welfare department, which is interested in copying it.

"DHHR sure likes it," Bayes said. "It's just funny that a state like West Virginia can have the best program like this in the country."

West Virginia's hilly terrain and rural landscape makes it an ideal place for this type of program, agreed Gunter, who would like to see Tennessee adopt something similar.

"It's just so hard to do things without a car ... especially in West Virginia," Gunter said. "It's not like being in the big metropolitan city, where taking the bus is not quite as difficult."

Gunter's daughter is now 8 years old, and her mom's happy to report that she's making straight A's in the second grade. Four weeks ago, Gunter also bought a new house in Tennessee, which is the family's first.

Reach Davin White at davinwh...@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1254.

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