"Most needy people," says Hal Colston from his desk at the cramped headquarters of the Good News Garage, "are poor because they don't have jobs." Colston, who is director of the Burlington, Vermont-based repair shop, came up with an innovative idea to address that problem. Many jobless people, he realized, cannot afford a car to reach a job site.
Colston's solution was to open the doors of what he calls a "community garage." He based Good News on the model of the community health center. Even if you had only a few hundred dollars, you could buy a car — a used vehicle donated to Good News rather than consigned to the junk heap. The car would be old, reckoned Colston, but it would be safe. And it would run.
Good News opened its doors in the summer of 1996. Since then, the garage has provided more than 200 cars to customers as various as welfare mothers, community activists, retirees and artisans. In a number of cases, Good News drivers are people who would have lost their jobs if they hadn't been able to find reliable transportation.
Across the country, the word is spreading that Good News is changing lives. More than 60 communities have contacted Colston and his staff, inquiring how they might replicate the program. And the garage is adding an outreach center in Vermont's poorest quarter, the Northeast Kingdom.
Meanwhile, Good News customers are driving away in their reliable wheels. As one client, about to set out in her 1981 Ford Granada, put it: "This feels like spreading your wings."