Social workers are a hard working lot, often working long hours for little pay, with their hearts proudly and humbly worn on their sleeves. Social workers encounter more than their fair share of impossible situations, often impossible situations that are miles outside the range of their agency, (both personal skill range and institutional scope of mandate). It can be enough to leave you feeling helpless and hopeless. And for some it is. But not for Cathy Heying!
Cathy Heying is a social worker in Minnesota. Minnesota, the land of Lake Woebegon where all the women are strong, all the men are good-looking, and all the children are above average. Cathy Heying is both strong and above average for sure. While she worked as a member of the pastoral staff at St. Stephen’s Catholic Church she noticed that many of those who passed through her office were financially struggling because they had lost their jobs. And being a keen observer of the interconnectedness of life events she noticed that many of those folks lost their jobs because their cars broke down and so they were unable to get to work on time. Single mom’s had it particularly bad because they had work schedules, childcare schedules and bus schedules to coordinate. Car repairs were simply out of the question, there was no money in the budget for such luxuries. But no car repairs meant no car, which came to mean a collapse of schedule coordination, a loss of job and a near complete deterioration of the budget, and too often homelessness for the family. Far too often a family’s war on poverty was lost for the lack of a bolt!
Some social workers would have seen this as overwhelming. Some social workers would have seen this as a system failure in the community’s public transportation system and would have launched into a campaign for better bus schedules. Some social workers would have seen this as a lack of compassion on the part of employers, and would have advocated with particular employers for individual clients. And maybe Cathy tried those things too. But, what we know Cathy did was that she recognized the need for client access to affordable car repairs. So, Cathy took the bull by the horns, enrolled herself in the Dunwoody Institute, as one of a few women amidst the 18-year-old young men, and she earned her auto technology degree.
Cathy Heying didn’t just stop there. Working with others, she has created The Lift Garage which has state non-profit status, so that it can now operates as an independent 501-c3. Currently the garage is open on Saturdays to individuals and families who have been referred by a social worker or who demonstrate financial need. Services offered range from basic maintenance, such as belts and batteries, to full service repairs such as suspension and steering. The Lift charges a flat fee of $15/hour plus parts, for anyone who has recently taken a car to a garage, you know this is way below market price.
After I heard Cathy’s story, my first reaction was, “this is GREAT!!” And then I thought, well, but what does this change? And then I remembered the story of the starfish thrower, and then I remembered the community building practice of ‘each one reach one’ from the civil rights movement. And I thought, well, this is something. And that’s a good thing.