ADVOCAP’s Work-N-Wheels program gives people more than a lift in life

"I love that I could be the one that could move my own feet and get this vehicle. It makes me feel like a productive member of society because for so long, I didn't feel that way." - Serah Muinde, car owner through the ADVOCAP Work-N-Wheels program

Serah Muinde has traveled a few detours in her journey through life.

She spent a good part of her 20s and 30s struggling with alcoholism and addictions. She floated from job to job. Eventually, her family cut off financial support, and Muinde was homeless. It was the wake-up call she needed to get help.

After treatment and with support from community resources, Muinde, now 40, has adjusted her course and is on a clear path to a fulfilling future. She feels fortunate to have full-time work as a community advocate at Nova Counseling, the treatment center that helped get her back on her feet.

A graduate of the University of Wisconsin Oshkosh and mother to an active 11-year-old daughter, things seemed to be falling into place.

Except, she didn't have a car, nor the financial history that most people her age would have to help her get one.
"I walked wherever I had to go, or else I didn't go," says Muinde. "For a while, it was OK. But when it came to re-establishing myself, that was not going to work. As opportunities grew for me, I needed a vehicle."

Muinde was introduced to ADVOCAP's Work-N-Wheels program, which helps qualified, employed individuals obtain a zero percent interest loan to purchase reliable, affordable transportation. The program helped Muinde purchase a used Mercury Sable and budget for insurance and maintenance costs.

"It was time for me to do this, so ADVOCAP has really been a gift in my life, and part of my recovery process," she says. "Everything I've done for this vehicle has been by myself, and that's a really good feeling."

Program coordinator Sue Pomplun says there are dozens of stories just like Muinde's, where ADVOCAP Work-N-Wheels participants have turned their lives around thanks to having a reliable car. The boost in self-esteem goes a long way, too, she says. "Once (participants) become dependent on themselves, they find they can do so much more," says Pomplun.

"For me, it's watching them and how proud they are that they accomplish something. What it does for people is so hard to put into words."

ADVOCAP Work-N-Wheels, supported in part by a multi-year $132,396 Community Impact grant from the Foundation, has helped 138 people purchase vehicles. Another 81 people have received financial assistance to pay for a portion of expenses for needed care repairs. Participants have a 98 percent on-time payment record and more than 80 percent have accomplished career-related goals. The success has earned the program accolades, including the 2012 Governor's Award for Excellence in Community Action and Innovation.

By securing affordable transportation, participants are able to apply for better paying jobs, commute to other areas with more employment opportunities, get education or job training and become more self-sufficient.

What sets ADVOCAP Work-N-Wheels apart from other transportation programs is its revolving loan program, which leverages local funding to secure matching funds from the state Department of Transportation to build a sustainable cash flow. For every loan that is paid back, Pomplun says two more people can be helped.

Participants' success is monitored with regular contact, and if needed, other participants or agencies provide a network of support, she says. Several local car dealerships and repair shops do their part by helping to keep costs low. Those community partnerships are key, Pomplun says. In the future, the hope is to incorporate financial institutions to help people build their credit history.

"I am so passionate about this program, because it helps people in so, so many ways," says Pomplun.

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