Rose Paz spent money on car repairs every month. One time she needed new tires, another time she spent nearly $2,000 on a new transmission. She uses her car to travel from her home in Arvada to her place of work in Aurora and to take her children to school and to her other parents’ home.
“If you have a car and it’s your only mode of transportation, you’re going to do whatever it takes to keep it going,” Paz said.
But now the single mother is driving a refurbished donation vehicle that she got at a reduced price. She bought it from Hands of the Carpenter, a nonprofit organization that provides affordable autos, repairs, and maintenance to single moms in the Denver area.
The 20-year-old organization operates out of Golden and opened its second location in Aurora on May 14. An estimated 30,000 working, single women live on limited income in the service area of Aurora’s new location.
The non-profit organization looks after around 250 mothers a year at the Golden location. The second location will allow the organization to serve twice as many women annually, leaders said.
“We just want to remove obstacles that single mothers face when trying to be the sole breadwinner for their family,” said founder Dan Georgopulos. “One of the biggest unmet needs that we identified a long time ago was transportation.”
Hands of the Carpenter offers two programs to help single mothers. Customers pay 50% of the cost charged by competitors for one-time repair or vehicle replacement assistance. The other program lasts three years, with customers covering 35% of the cost in the first year, 50% in the second, and 75% in the third.
The nonprofit hopes to open two more locations in the Denver area in the next five to seven years. Employees are encouraged by the results of a recent assessment, which showed that women in the program saw at least a 28% increase in earnings.
The organization received a direct loan for the building from donors organized by the nonprofit SVP Denver. Donors provided a joint loan at a below-market interest rate, a new, innovative financing model that has been used twice to support local charities. The nonprofits receive affordable financing in a challenging real estate market, while investors receive modest returns that they then redistribute to other organizations.
“All in all, it’s a big winner,” said investor Justin Folkestad. “We have an opportunity to give them the money temporarily, they can use it, and then it comes back to the investment group to use elsewhere in the community.”
Folkestad, board member of Hands of the Carpenter and SVP Denver, was touched by the generational shift that occurs when these mothers are able to provide reliable transportation for their families. He said the stories of women missing out on job opportunities or their children missing doctor’s appointments due to transportation issues prompted him to help the organization expand.
“You don’t realize how difficult transportation really is in Denver,” Folkestad said. “Something that would take you 20 minutes in your car could take you two hours and multiple transfers on a bus.”
While many vehicle donation programs simply take a car and sell it, the nonprofit’s donation program refurbishes as many cars as possible to ensure the women drive away in safe vehicles. Georgopulos said he would love for the community surrounding the new Aurora location to embrace their mission by donating their vehicles. The donation process begins with an online form on the nonprofit’s website.
Hands of the Carpenter is a faith-based organization based on a biblical call to service. Georgopulos said the belief element is not related to any requirements from the mothers, but is contained in why the staff do what they do.
“I would say that initially as a founder it was my Christian faith,” said Georgopulos. “As it has grown and changed, it means something different to each employee, whether it be their beliefs or values, their upbringing or their passion to serve.”
Paz says the nonprofit has saved her tons of time and money. The mechanics decided that her old car wasn’t worth further repairs, something she hadn’t heard from other auto repair shops. After proving that she was busy with an internship and had good driving practice, she was entitled to buy a car at only 35% of its value. She paid $3,350 and drove away in an insured vehicle that had been donated and then refurbished.
Paz was even hired for a position within the organization as a customer service coordinator. She said she is committed to the women who apply to the program because she wants them to have reliable and affordable transportation like she has found.
“I think if I had gotten [my car] Outside of that program, I don’t think I could have afforded it,” said Paz. “I would probably still be in the same car I was in, trying to fix it and save it for the long term.”