Vehicles for Change helps another Baltimore citizen

Sabrina Batten stands proudly next to her new 2005 Ford Explorer XLS. Batten received the car from the nonprofit organization Vehicles for change, which provides low-income families a vehicle. (Photo taken by Asia Hinton/ Oct 12, 2011)

Published October, 2011

It’s 5 a.m. and 27-year-old Sabrina Batten is getting ready for work. Batten must leave her studio apartment before 6 a.m. to begin her lengthy commute.

Batten, who works as an Apheresis Coordinator for new donors at the American Red Cross of Central Maryland, only lives 30 minutes from her job. However because Batten does not have a car, she’s force to ride the two and a half hourlong commute on a public bus service that’s provided by the Maryland Transit Administration.

“ There’s no bus that directly leaves from my house to my job,” said Batten. “In order for me to get to work by public transportation, I would have to go to one bus stop, then transfer to another bus, which I have to ride through Baltimore because my stop is the last stop. That still doesn’t take me to my job therefore I just usually walk. “But I’d rather sit down and have a nice hot breakfast in the morning and then drive myself to work. ”

While a 30 minute drive may take MTA buses two and a half hours to complete, according to Larry Strickland, Metro Supervisor for 14 years for the MTA, increasing the amount of bus routes is more complicated than it sounds.

“In Baltimore you have around 650 to 700 thousand people and it’s hard to try to satisfy a large majority of people,” said Strickland. “Therefore we try to set up routes that benefits that masses, but you are always going to have those few people who are inconvenienced by it. It also hurts because a lot of people don’t want routes in their area.”

Batten is one of thousands of Baltimore citizens who are inconvenienced by public transportation, but who rely on it daily to get around the city. But thanks to one nonprofit organization that aims to help citizens in need, Batten’s worries of public transportation are over.

Vehicles for Change, established in 1999, focuses on providing vehicles to low-income families in order to escape poverty.

Marty Schwartz, founder of Vehicles for Change, has always had an interest in giving back to the community. Schwartz, who is also a used-car dealer, says when he had an opportunity to build a program that’ll have a significant impact on families, it all just made sense.

The organization takes donated cars from citizens, repairs the cars and then provides qualified individuals a chance to receive a loan and a warranty regardless of their credit history.

“Having a car gives [families] the opportunity to explore options for better employment because now they are mobile,” said Schwartz. It gives them the ability to take their children to afterschool and recreational events that were once not possible. They can make it back and forth to the doctor’s office and it just really increases their independence and ability to earn more money for their family.”

Money definitely began to be an issue for Batten when she found out that she was pregnant. Working at her job for less than a year, and being put on bed rest early in her trimester, Batten was afraid of losing her job.

Batten’s health and that of her unborn baby were in jeopardy because of the 30 minute walk Batten endured everyday in order to get to work. There were some days when Batten became extremely exhausted and blacked out while walking.

“I had to beg and plead for my doctor to take me off of bed rest, because in today’s economy no ones job is guaranteed,” said Batten. “So I asked her what’s the worse that could happen with me sitting at a desk. She told me nothing, but then asked how I was getting to work, I told her by walking, and she said well you just answered your own question.”

When Batten returned back to work, through casual conversation with a co-worker, she found out about Vehicles for Change.

“I said are you lying to me. No way, what people would do that,” said Batten. “I have struggled my whole life and have never had a miracle besides waking up in the morning.”

Little did Batten know that in the coming weeks she would be receiving much more than that.

“I gave it a chance and called them up and immediately, [they] were by far the nicest people I’ve ever met,” said Batten. “They told me all the procedures and where to apply to get the car, and little did I know, I was told that I would be approved.”

After completing countless applications and making many phone calls, Batten’s hard work finally paid off.  She received a 2005 Ford Explorer XLS on Friday October 7, 2011, with a total of 99,000 miles and a bill of sale for $850.

“When I was given the car, I hugged them and I kissed them so many times,” said Batten. “I honestly sat there and could not believe I had a car. I tried to leave the lot and drive home, but I ended up pulling over and I cried so bad because I could not believe that I was actually driving.”

Sabrina Batten sits and reflects on how it feels to have her new 2005 Ford Explorer XLS. Batten received the car from the nonprofit organization Vehicles for change, which provides low-income families a vehicle. (Photo taken by Asia Hinton/ Oct 12, 2011)

In the 48 hours that Batten has had her car, it has already changed her life. She was able to not only look, but also sign the lease for an apartment that provides a safer environment for her and her unborn baby.  She’s even eager to go to work on Monday to let her manager know that she’s able to work more hours and stay later, because she no longer has to rely on buses or walking.

While Batten is getting a glimpse into the new life that she’ll be living, Del. James Malone, from the Baltimore and Montgomery County district, got a chance to walk in the shoes of transit-dependent Baltimore citizens.

“I think it’s a fantastic program and I don’t think people know what they go through every single day,” said Del. Malone. “People like me take it for granted and get into vehicles and drive wherever and it’s no big deal. “But it is when every single day of your life you have to deal with public transportation and not know if they’ll be on time or not on time.”

Having to take the bus instead of driving his car has prompted Del. Malone to make some changes.

“I am working with the head of the buses to see how we can make sure the buses are on time,” said Del. Malone.

Although having the buses run on schedule is a concern of Del. Malone, according to Strickland, there are already plans in progress to get buses to run more smoothly.

“There are quite a few buses on the street everyday and you can’t control all of them,” said Strickland. “But we have started a new program called Service Quality, where more supervisors are put on the street to try to address a lot of the problems of the public. There will also be undercover checkers on buses to observe and make sure the operators are running on time and safely.”

Bus schedules and routes are no longer a worry for Batten, thanks to the program that provided her and other families a means of mobility.

Last year the program provided 420 cars to low-income families, and as of July 2011, the program has already helped 84 families. The set goal for this year is aimed at providing about 520 vehicles to those in need, but with hopes of doubling that amount in the coming years.“Within the next three of four years I’d like to build it a little further,” said Schwartz. “Right now we are in Maryland, Virginia and D.C., but I would like to expand it and include several other states, and maybe even take the program nation wide.”

Vehicles for Change accept all types of cars and are hoping that individuals will choose to want to donate their cars instead of taking it to an auction.

Batten, however, is just thankful that the owner of her car decided to donate to help out for a good cause.

“With my job, I love being able to make a difference in someone’s life, and if others could do the same by giving away a vehicle, please God do it,” said Batten. “Make it so someone else does not have to go through the many things I went through with not having a car. I love Vehicles for Change and I am so grateful for how they’ve helped me.”

If you want to donate your car here are some programs in Maryland and D.C.

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