WAUSAU, Wis. — Donna Brown wasn't sure she could do it. Her car was irreparable, her personal budget was a self-described mess and she just didn't know whether she could handle any more curve balls that the pitching machine called life would hurl her way.
Dan Newman, meanwhile, was skeptical. Surely, all the talk about selling him a reliable car at a reasonable price, while providing a no-interest loan, was nothing but a scam. What kind of fees would they tack on? Or other charges? If it sounds too good to be true, the saying goes, it always is.
Boy, were they mistaken.
Today, Ms. Brown and Mr. Newman are two of the 200-plus success stories from the Wheels to Work program, an initiative that allows less fortunate people in Wisconsin's Marathon County to purchase a vehicle or repair an existing one, with a no-interest loan, so that they can get back and forth to work. The vehicles are donated by auto service customers from around the region who are unwilling to pay for a repair that might be higher than what the vehicle is worth.
If a service shop determines the vehicle can be fixed, it is sent for repair either to an area automotive service shop, Northcentral Technical College (NTC) or Wausau East High School's automotive shop. Once the vehicle is repaired and deemed safe for the road — Wheels to Work receives labor and parts at a significant discount — it then is awarded to a client who has completed the program's requirements successfully.
Wheels to Work, now in its sixth year, was the brainchild of Kent Olson, owner of Olson Tire Pros & Auto Service Inc., located in downtown Wausau.
Wheels to Work is operated under the Wisconsin Automotive Truck Education Association (WATEA), a nonprofit co-founded by Mr. Olson and a group of individuals and businesses with strong ties to the automotive, truck and transportation industry. WATEA's mission is to develop awareness of career paths and opportunities available in the transportation industry.
It is because of his work with WATEA and Wheels to Work, along with countless other charitable endeavors, that Mr. Olson was named this year's Tire Business Tire Dealer Humanitarian Award winner. The prestigious award is presented annually to an independent tire dealer or retreader who, during the past year, has made significant contributions to the betterment of his or her community through charitable and/or public service work.
Ms. Brown needed a vehicle desperately. The one she had was beyond repair, and she didn't have the money "to keep fixing it over and over." She needed transportation to attend training in order for her to start her new job in the fast-food service industry.
So she purchased a 2000 Dodge Caravan from Wheels to Work.
"I was able to go to the training and not have to worry about breaking down and all of that," Ms. Brown said. "It was a godsend, that's all I can say.
"This program has changed my life."
Mr. Newman has purchased two vehicles from the program. He totaled his first, a sedan, when he hit black ice and collided with a telephone pole. He got a Ford Windstar van the second time.