When Angie Angerman’s 12-year-old Dodge Magnum died last year, it wasn’t just a hassle and financial hit. It was a disaster, upending everything in her precariously balanced life.
As a single mother of two, who works part-time while juggling classes at Santa Rosa Junior College, she couldn’t come even close to paying $1,000 to get the car back on the road.
“It was a nightmare,” she said.
She was forced to get up at 5:30 in the morning to get her 2 1/2-year-old daughter to day care by 8 a.m. The journey entailed a trip from her Rincon Valley bus stop to the Downtown Transit Mall, where she would then have to wait an hour for a county bus to get her to the day care. She would then have to wait another 45 minutes for a bus that would get her to Santa Rosa Junior College. She would have to do it in reverse at the end of the day.
Weekends were even worse. She had to get to her job as assistant manager for a storage facility on Sebastopol Road but also get her daughter to a day care downtown, with fewer buses running. She found herself frequently walking and losing weight.
“I was spending four to six hours on the bus every day. I’m grateful for public transit, but it’s hard to do anything when you’re a parent and you’ve got to work and go to school to survive,” she said. “I felt like I was doing all this work and I couldn’t get a break.”
But relief came when a counselor at CalWORKS, which oversees a welfare to work program for single parents at Santa Rosa Junior College, told her about a little-known auto shop on Santa Rosa Avenue that repairs cars for free for single mothers working hard to pull themselves out of poverty.
For the past year, SAL Auto has operated largely under the radar. It is the brainchild of Matthew Nalywaiko, a 35-year-old Santa Rosa man who for the past eight years has dedicated his entrepreneurship to help others. In 2009, he founded a local nonprofit he called Serve a Little, which marshaled an army of professional tradesmen, mechanics and skilled handymen, to help low-income single mothers and military wives with home and auto repairs. The organization also took donated cars and refurbished them for needy moms.
“We were spread very thin being an all-volunteer organization. We leaned toward the greatest need and the greatest need was automotive repair, particularly for single moms,” said Nalywaiko,
Without working wheels a young mom barely making ends meet can’t get kids to school and day care, to jobs, medical appointments and college classes to lift themselves out of poverty. So he shifted gears and set about figuring out how to keep more struggling mothers mobile.
He put together a business plan for his vision of a nonprofit car repair shop, that would use the proceeds from full-paying clients to subsidize free repair work for qualifying single moms. A man in commercial real estate who Nalywaiko met in a yoga class heard about the project and offered to buy a building and lease it back to the non-profit at a huge discount to get the shop going. Then a whole village of benefactors stepped forward to renovate a former motorcycle shop on Santa Rosa Avenue into an enviable auto shop stocked with professional tools, lifts and four bays.