Legal Blog

A Video Conversation with Marty Schwartz About Vehicles for Change’s Impact On Low-Income Families

Click here for part 1 Improving the quality of life and work for low-income families through donated vehicles Marty SchwartzMarty Schwartz is the president, CEO, and founder of Vehicles for Change. Established in 1999, Vehicles for Change provides low-income families with donated, renovated cars, as well as technical training for jobs in the automotive industry. The organization has awarded nearly 5,000 cars thus far, for a net impact of 16,450 lives improved. As a result of their involvement in the program, VFC recipient families earn better jobs and higher earnings, along with an average reduction of 90 minutes in daily commuting time. EDWIN WARFIELD: How does a car impact the life of a low-income family? MARTY SCHWARTZ: The impact of a car is, in the words of most our recipients, life-changing. You think about being in any neighborhood in Baltimore that doesn’t have access to public transportation, whether it’s East Baltimore or Cherry Hill or whatever, but there are 60,000 low income households in the Baltimore metropolitan area without a car and without access to public transportation. And so those people have absolutely no hope whatsoever of ever getting out of poverty. It doesn’t make any difference what their education level is, what their job skill is, or any of those things, because they can’t get to a job. And so, when we provide them with a car, they actually now have hope, and until you have hope you really don’t have any kind of energy to move forward. When they get a car, it really changes their lives, and it changes the lives of their children. We have done a lot of research on folks who have gotten cars from us: 75% of the families who’ve got a car from us have increased their annual income by $7,500 a year. These are families who were only making $18,000– 20,000 a year when they got their cars, so we’re talking about a 30% to 40% increase in twelve months. We kind of figured that when we started this program, because the research that we did showed that. You know, one of the big things that irks me is that you talk to folks outside of our field and they think that people that are in poverty want to be in poverty. There isn’t anybody in this entire country that wants to live in poverty. Once you give them that tool, that opportunity to get to work, they’re going to make a whole new life for themselves. But the thing that’s really cool is what they’re doing for their children. One hundred percent of the people who have gotten a car from us who have children say that they’re taking their kids to afterschool activities, so they’re getting a better education. They’re taking their kids to athletic activities, so they’re getting an opportunity to play sports and to be active in the community. And they’re taking their kids on recreation-type events, so they’re going as a family on vacation. The car actually not only helps build an economic stability for them, but it also helps in building the family unit, and it makes a difference for these children to now have a parent who can provide for them what they could never provide before because they had no access to a car. Are there other programs like this in the country? Where does Vehicles for Change fit in? We are currently the largest, and really considered by a number of the major foundations and even some of our peers as being the premier program in the country. Transportation is a problem everywhere. It’s not just here in the Maryland–Virginia area, but like I said, it’s in Detroit, in Chicago. We have a group coming down from Boston in three weeks that wants us to open a program there. We spent some time working in Atlanta, but at the last minute our funding fell through, so we’re looking. Detroit’s going to be kind of our benchmark and I think once we can get that up and running and really get cars donated and start awarding cars up there, I think it will be much easier to open up other areas. Could you tell us more about those expansion plans? We had made a conscious decision that we were going to take the program national, so we’re working on that but through a Baltimore connection in Detroit: a gentleman named Luis Perez, who at one point was the CFO of the Ravens. Luis and I got to know each other when he was here in Baltimore. He has since transplanted himself to Detroit, and the Detroit Lions are very active in the community and workforce development, and Detroit has absolutely horrendous public transportation. They literally make Baltimore look like Washington or New York when it comes to public transportation. So, the Detroit Lions were doing a lot of work in the community and helping get people trained and ready to go to work, and they started to realize that all the jobs are outside the city, and so they spent all this money and all this energy and they couldn’t get people to work. So, Luis and I worked together, and the Lions gave us $100,000 in seed money to get the program up and running in Detroit. One of our staff has transferred up to Detroit and taken that same passion that we have here in Maryland and Virginia with her to Detroit. I think as far as our expansion success, it’s really being thoughtful about where we go and how we do it. Our board of directors is awesome in helping us make those decisions. Here, it’s really just about staying focused, maintaining that passion, and providing an incredibly valuable service at a very high level. We’re going to place our 5000th car in probably late August–early September, so we’ll have done 5000 cars but that’s in Maryland, Virginia, and D.C.

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