The Daily Express

Owens Teams up with TMACOG for Life-Changing Program

Even a teenager with a brand new driver's license knows that owning a car is about more than just dependable transportation to and from work. It's about freedom.

For people in a welfare-to-work program taking classes at Owens Community College, they have discovered that owning a car changes the quality of their lives ­ making them better employees and better parents.

"Owning a car is interwoven with the American dream ­ it really makes people become independent," said Linda Stacy, Owens interim executive director of economic and workforce training.

Owens has partnered with the Toledo Metropolitan Area Council of Governments (TMACOG) for the Northwest Ohio CommuterLINK program. It helps purchase used cars for people on government assistance and then teaches them how to be responsible for their cars.

"We hear great success stories from this program," Stacy explained. "We had one man who was promoted at his job because he now owned a car. Another lady told me the car helps her be a better parent ­ she can attend her children's after school conferences and soccer games and take them to church."

Strict standards govern who may receive a car. All recipients are referrals from the Lucas County Jobs and Family Services office. They must be a parent eligible for governmental benefits for low-income families, employed continuously for the past six months, currently work full-time, have a valid driver's license, have no DUIs in the past three years, and be at least 21 years old.

Recipients pay $100 per month for 12 months on the car, which includes insurance, and then own it after that year. Three people have paid off their cars early, Stacy said.

They do not receive the car until after taking part in a Basic Car Maintenance class at the Owens Center for Development and Training (CDT). The class covers basic maintenance, such as how to change the oil, change the windshield wipers, and check the tire pressure, according to Joe Peschel, coordinator of customized training at CDT and the instructor for the class.

"There's financial aspects of owning and buying a car, too," Peschel said. "We teach them to make good decisions about interest rates and payments and finding a good mechanic."

Peschel said a student told him the class has helped her to become more fiscally responsible in other ways, as well. "Now she can drive to the grocery store and uses double coupons instead of shopping at the carryout in her neighborhood," he said.

"We want to help them long-term," Peschel said. "This class is not a hand-out, but a hand-up. For many students, I witnessed how it's an opportunity for them to change their lives."

In addition, staff at Sky Bank donate their time for another class to help students learn about budgeting.

"This program is a good example how we could leverage some of our strengths to help others get further ahead. The better we help others do, the better it is for us all. It's a spillover effect for the region," said Todd Ritzler, Sky Bank Vice President of Commercial Services.

Northwest Ohio CommuterLINK started as a transportation program providing rides to and from work, school or day care. However, due to the cost of the program and needs of customers for multiple rides, TMACOG determined it would be more cost effective purchasing vehicles for their clients for an average of $3,000.

The balance of the vehicle is paid for by the Lucas County Commissioners and a grant from the Federal Transit Administration. Local car dealers assist TMACOG in finding appropriate cars for the program. About 85 people already have completed the program.

"Partnering with agencies in the community to create programs that better the region is what TMACOG is all about," said President Anthony Reams. "The Car Buy Program offers individuals an opportunity to lift themselves up."

Owens Community College is the fastest-growing community college of its size in the nation. On the Toledo-area and Findlay campuses, Owens serves more than 36,000 credit and non-credit students. Owens is committed to offering small classes, personal attention and the lowest tuition in Northwest Ohio. Owens offers over 100 career-oriented programs and majors in Agriculture, Business, Health, Public Service, Skilled Trades, Industrial and Engineering Technologies. Owens students also can earn the first two years of a bachelor's degree with a smooth transfer to any area four-year college or university.

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Last modified on: Tuesday, February 12, 2002
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