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Good works: Car ministry helps struggling families

While some people use Bibles and devotionals in their ministry, a group from Mount Ararat Baptist Church relies on torque wrenches and air compressors for theirs.

The volunteers are part of the North Stafford church’s Compassion Restoration Ministry.

They fix vehicles for people who can’t afford the cost, and they give cars they’ve repaired to single mothers and formerly homeless people trying to make it on their own.

The auto-repair program is just one component of the church’s multifaceted ministry. Volunteers also do all types of home repair, go on mission trips here and abroad and collect furniture and appliances for local residents lacking both.

Church members Steve Sokoly and Cecil Hensley started the car-repair program on their own. Using Sokoly’s dime and Hensley’s talent, they bought cars from local auctions and rebuilt burned-up transmissions and worn-out engines. Then, they gave the cars away.

The church eventually added the car-repair program to its Compassion Restoration Ministry. In 2012, ministry mechanics fixed 48 cars for people who couldn’t pay for big-ticket repairs and gave away another 34.

The ministry’s $20,000 annual budget covers parts and services the volunteers can’t perform, such as inspections and front-end alignments.

But every other bit of labor—which often is the most expensive part of a repair—is done for free by the guys.

Not all of them attend Mount Ararat, or any church, for that matter. But they enjoy using their talents for others.

“If I can help someone out, it’s a good feeling,” said volunteer Peter Garibaldi.

The ministry mechanics work in a small garage off State Route 610 in Garrisonville, not far from the church. Silver Cos. owns the property and lets the church use the shop.

Hensley, a mechanic who owns his own mobile auto-repair business, spends almost every day of the week at the church garage. To him, fixing a problem under the hood is the same as delivering a song or sermon.

“It truly is a gift from God, and you got to share that with others,” he said. “That’s the bottom line.”

He’s joined regularly in the grease pits by Garibaldi, a Marine who works on mine-resistant programs. Another 10 or so people with varying mechanical skills make up the labor team.

Sokoly is the talker of the group, although he learned the basics of oil changes and brake jobs from his father. He listens to people who have fallen on hard times, as well as those who are victims of their own bad decisions.

He also decides which repairs will come first, giving priority to families who are in danger of losing their homes.

Truth be told, he never refuses anyone who legitimately needs help with a car repair. He just puts those whose situations aren’t as dire a little lower on the list.

The program has helped a lot of formerly homeless people make the transition from the street to independent living, said Meghann Cotter, director of Micah Ecumenical Ministries in Fredericksburg.

One of her agency’s programs involves helping clients find jobs and become enrolled in educational programs so they can advance.

“The third piece is transportation, and that’s what really makes or breaks the other two,” Cotter said. “If they can’t get there, they can’t succeed in improving their situations.”

The last five cars repaired by the ministry mechanics went to Micah clients, Sokoly said.

He no longer buys cars from local auctions, but relies on donated vehicles instead. Because the church program gives the cars away, donors can get a tax credit for the fair market value of the vehicle—not what it might sell for at an auction.

Kaz Automotive in North Stafford also passes along information about the ministry to customers who learn their repairs are more than they’re willing to spend.

Assistant Manager Cathy Dennison will tell them about the ministry and put them in touch with Sokoly, who makes the arrangements.

“They’re a great group of guys,” she said, “and they’re doing a wonderful thing.”

More information about Mount Ararat’s program is available at 540/446-6100.

GOOD WORKS is an occasional series about some of the missions churches do that go beyond ministering to spiritual needs. If your church is involved in a special effort to serve the community, please send a brief description of the project to jmarshall@freelancestar.com.

Cathy Dyson: 540/374-5425

cdyson@freelancestar.com

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