For many families in Flint, access to a car is simply out-of-reach. Purchasing one is often often impossible, as is paying for repairs to get a car working again when it breaks down.
Thankfully, Forge Garage, a local non-profit, is stepping up to help needy families get behind the wheel and on the road to recovery.
“The idea of the Forge Garage came about when members of the Forge Flint ministry had a vision to help eliminate the obstacles of transportation for families in the Flint community,” says Aaron Dunigan, the organization’s director of operations.
Dunigan, who was a board member for Forge Flint at that time, adds, “we looked around and saw just how important reliable transportation is for families to have access to employment, health care, food, etc. We simply felt compelled to respond.”
The garage (which offers most services except for engine and transmission repair) has been in operation for a little less than two years now. During that time they have helped over 80 families. Dunigan reports that the assistance they have provided translates to having helped each family save an average of $500.
The way the garage works is remarkably simple and uncomplicated. There are no-walks allowed or phone calls taken from people who might want to call the organization directly. With no exceptions, they work only through referrals from their partner organizations, which include nonprofit service providers and religious organizations.
“The referring partner sends us an email, or gives us a call, stating that they have a under-resourced family or individual that could use some repairs or need transportation all together,” explains Dunigan. “I then call the family to find out about the car and the problems it is having.”
Once the family is contacted, a message is sent out to Forge Flint’s 25-plus volunteers to see who is available and when. Based on that information, the family is contacted a second time to discuss their schedule and determine when they can bring their car in. In some cases, if a vehicle isn’t even starting or can’t be driven, the garage will arrange to have it towed to the shop to have the repairs done.
Forge Garage has over 20 partner organizations and agencies that they work with. One of those organizations is another prominent local nonprofit, Metro Community Development.
“We are in the beginning phases of partnering with Metro and their auto-loan program, which is designed to offer low-interest loans to employed individuals who might have a bad credit score. We are working towards being able to provide vehicles which could be purchased through that initiative,” Dunigan says.
Matthew Ronan, a lending officer with Metro, is confident in the good fit of the budding partnership, which started just this past January.
“Metro’s mission is to provide people with the tools that are necessary to bring about financial stability, and to help people define and reach their personal goals. We are assisting the Forge with access to auto loans up to $5,000 for the transportation that clients need in order to get out and be able to earn an income,” he says.
Ronan underscores Dunigan’s statement that credit scores will not be used in determining approval. Rather, the two major factors for approvals of the loans will be the applicants’ ability and willingness to repay them. “Willingness is determined by the applicant demonstrating that they want to learn positive money management habits,” he says.
The program, which is still relatively new, has not closed any loans to date. But, Ronan says, “as the program moves forward, we at Metro are truly looking forward to assisting those individuals in need of transportation to get to and from work.”
While the folks at Forge Garage are also anticipating increased client interest and good developments in the partnership front in the near future, they have their hands full with company growth in other areas.
“Part of our vision,” Dunigan reveals, “is to train and pay for students to get their mechanic certification. We want to offer them the chance to gain a skill set that one day could possibly be a career. We are in the process of expanding in this area.”
Forge Garage is also working towards securing a license to sell cars. Their motivation is to provide families with economical transportation that does not cost them more than they can afford to pay. The plan is to get cars donated to the garage, and then through their organizational partnership referral program these cars will be sold to families for a $500 fee.
Dunigan and the rest of his team are determined to put in whatever time and whatever hard work it will take to accomplish their mission of eliminating transportation barriers for families in the Flint area.
“We help families that are often forgotten about. We help them to obtain one of the most important things necessary for a healthy, functional life — reliable transportation. We serve families that have no other option. Either we help them out or they go without,” Dunigan says.
For many of those families, the Forge Garage has been a godsend. “One guy came in and had an estimate from somewhere else, and we saved him over $1,400. That’s $1,400 that he did not have. One family told us that because of what we did for them, they were able to get their car repaired and still pay their rent. That’s big,” Dunigan says.
Editor’s Note: Forge Garage offers tax-deductible car donations and are grateful for all tax-deductible gifts. Visit their website for more information at forgeflint.org/garage or write them at firstname.lastname@example.org
Lead image: Aaron Dunigan plans and organizes all car repairs and recruits volunteers. He handles all the daily to-dos and works hand-in-hand with the garage’s partner organizations to ensure that low-income residents in Flint get the car repairs they need. Photo by Josh Kennedy
Metro Community Development staff will be on hand at the Oct. 9th “Moving You Forward Opportunity Expo” at Kettering University from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. If you or someone you know is in need of support services like those provided by Forge Garage, access them at the Expo. Private one-on-one consultations will be available on a walk-in basis.
For additional information, contact Matt Rowan by email at email@example.com or by phone at 810-767-4622.
The Expo, of which Huntington Bank and the Michigan State Housing Development Authority (MSHDA) are also presenting partners, will put all the information about resources families need to move forward and upward within reach.
Participants will be able to meet with financial aid, health, housing, insurance and neighborhood resource specialists, in addition to employers, bankers and area nonprofits. Confirmed exhibitors include:
City of Flint
Flint Registry Outreach
Genesee County Habitat for Humanity
Genesee County Land Bank
Genesee County Prevention Coalition,
Genesee Health Plan
Genesee Health System
Greater Flint Health Coalition
Hamilton Community Health Network
Holy Cross Services
Huntington Bank (Workshop)
Hurley Medical Center
Kettering University – First Robotics Team (Demonstration)
Latinx Technology Community Center,
Legal Services of Eastern Michigan
LISC Communication Access Center for Deaf and Hard of Hearing
Metro Community Development (Workshop)
MSHDA – Michigan State Housing Development Authority (Workshop)
Michigan State University-Flint Campus
Molina Health Insurance
Mott Community College
Mott Workforce Development,
National Kidney Foundation of Michigan,
Neighborhood Engagement Hub
Oak Street Health
Social Security Administration
Sovita Credit Union
Stroke Ready (Workshop)
Total Life Prosperity
United Way of Genesee County
USDA Rural Development
Zeta Phi Beta Sorority, Inc.