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Community Foundation helps Hearts of Wheels give wheels to youth

Published: May. 27, 2021 at 12:15 PM CDT
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BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (WBRC) - Larry Savage is always on the hunt for a car.

Clean. Attractive. No major damage. Capable of at least 50,000 miles of service.

The COVID-19 pandemic has reduced the supply of used cars which makes another of Savage’s requirements even more daunting.

“Typically we try to stay between the $3,000 and $5,000 dollar range,” said Savage, who founded Hearts of Wheels with his wife.

Larry Savage with Hearts of Wheels
Larry Savage with Hearts of Wheels(WBRC)

The four year-old non-profit seeks to provide cars to people between 18 and 25 years old who have “aged-out” of foster care. “They have opportunities for jobs that they can’t get to,” said Savage. “They want to go to school. A bunch of our kids are now that we have already issued cars out two in November, they’re now enrolled in school. They’ve gotten their permit. They went from their permit to their driver’s license. Now they’re driving.”

To help expand the reach of Hearts of Wheels, the Community Foundation of Greater Birmingham has awarded the outfit $30,000 in its latest round of funding. It is one of more than 60 grants made with $1,524,000 in funding.

“Hearts of Wheels is one a great example of the organizations out there that may not be the large well-known organizations which also do great work and that we also support, but really grassroots organizations connected to their communities and able to see needs in their communities that maybe organizations aren’t meeting,” said Gus Heard-Hughes, the foundation’s Vice President for Programs.

Heard-Hughes said the foundation usually tries to help organizations with a specific need, but felt necessary to shift last year to helping with operational funding because of the pandemic. But now, he says they are trying to return to five major priorities they identified in a strategic plan two years ago that included a focus on equity and inclusion. As part of that effort, Heard-Hughes says they requested proposals that would expand the capacity of organizations led by Black people to serve Black communities, working with the Birmingham Change Fund, which promotes African-American philanthropy.

Larry Savage is excited about the group’s grant but finding cars for the young people he serves still takes lots of work. “We have some private dealers,” said Savage. “We have some car dealers that work with us. We have a lot of people that we work through Facebook and Craigslist and Auto Trader.”

Savage said young people who accept the cars have to have completed volunteer work and stay with his program for a year of mentoring while they learn to maintain their vehicles and pay the costs of car ownership. Having donated 25 cars over the last four years, Savage said he hopes to donate 20 cars this year alone. “They have jobs, they are employed. And their lives just got turned around tremendously.”

Savage said there is still time to apply for one of the cars they plan to donate in June.

Heard-Hughes says the Community Foundation plans to open its next grant cycle July.

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