JumpStart Auto Repair puts domestic violence survivors on road to success

NEENAH, Wis. - The purple doors are now open at JumpStart Auto Repair in Neenah. They offer the usual services at competitive prices.

"Oil changes, tires, brakes, suspension," explained General Manager Katie VanderWielen. "Exhaust work. We do it all."   

What makes this garage different, though, is that it's run by women in order to help women.

"To take a job that you enjoy and you're good at, and knowing that everyday a little bit of what we're doing is giving back to somebody in need is absolutely amazing," said VanderWielen. 

This 'Garage for Good,' as they call it, is decorated in purple which is the color associated with domestic violence awareness and support. It's owned by Harbor House Domestic Abuse Programs in Appleton and Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services in Oshkosh.

The idea started five years ago.

"The leaders from the organizations came together and kind of just, 'What's the biggest barrier?' It kept coming back to transportation for our clients for anything from leaving their abusive relationship to just day to day to self sufficiency," said Beth Oswald, Executive Director at Christine Ann.

"If somebody didn't have transportation, they weren't able to look for a job. They weren't able to get their kids to daycare," said Beth Schnorr, Harbor House's Executive Director. 

JumpStart Auto Repair uses its funds to help domestic abuse survivors obtain economic independence.

"When we can provide free and low cost automotive repairs, it can change someone's life," Schnorr explained.  

JumpStart Auto Repair first operated for a year as a pilot program at Fox Valley Technical College. After experiencing success, the non-profit organizations moved their for-profit garage to a new location on Commercial Street in Neenah last month.

An abuse survivor, who wants to remain anonymous, said JumpStart Auto Repair served as her safety net when her aging truck started having problems.

"I had to take care of it all by myself on a fixed income. It was hard. I was barely making my bills. Now that they're here, I think it's a godsend that we have this." 

The survivor refers to the mechanics as her 'Auto Angels.' 

"I trust the ladies. I feel comfortable. I can ask them anything. I'm not going to get criticized." 

VanderWielen added, "We want to be those women that you can ask those stupid questions to. You never have to feel intimidated or scared or worried about being taken advantage of."  

The mechanics often take their customers onto the garage floor to explain the repairs to them. VanderWielen said she works hard to make sure everyone, women and men alike, get the purple carpet treatment.

"To be able to help them just means the world to me." 

Leaders said they offer auto service with a higher purpose to keep survivors on the road to success.

"This is a dream come true for us, and we're on a roll," chuckled Schnorr.

VanderWielen hopes JumpStart Auto Repair will also inspire women to consider a career in the male-dominated automotive industry.

As far as the future, leaders have many goals they'd like to achieve. They plan to hold workshops to teach women how to change their own oil and do other car maintenance. They also hope to become so successful that the money the shop generates will eventually sustain the two domestic abuse shelters which will allow them to grow their programs. They'd also like to explore opening a coffee shop next door and possibly open more auto garages in the Fox Cities to spark more change. 
















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