By Bonnie Adams, Government Editor
Marlborough – Those of us who have automobiles tend to take them for granted. But for many central Massachusetts residents, the dream of owning a car is out of reach, perhaps because of little to no savings, low employment wages, a prolonged illness or bad credit. As a result, commuting to jobs, schools, medical care, and shopping for necessities, is often frustrating and stressful.
Now, there is help for those residents, thanks to a New Hampshire-based nonprofit organization, More than Wheels. The group, which promotes financial literacy as a way to help purchase automobiles, is now partnering with several local organizations, including Employment Options, Inc. in Marlborough.
According to its website, More than Wheels mission is “To help struggling individuals and? families break the cycle of poor financial decision making by using the car buying process to catalyze lasting change, financial stability and control.”
At a press conference held Wednesday, Oct. 10 at Employment Options, Steven Grossman, the Mass. state treasurer and state Sen. Jamie Eldridge, D-Acton, along with Terri Steingrebe, the CEO of More than Wheels, announced the new initiative.
“A car is not a luxury; it's a necessity,” Steingrebe said. “Imagine a life without a car or one that you'se not sure is going to work each time you need it.”
The program has several components, she explained, including one-on-one financial literacy training. Many times clients, no matter what their education level is, she said, do not understand the basics of managing a budget. As a result, they often find themselves in the disastrous position of not being able to pay their bills and/or running up their credit card bills.
More than Wheels counselors work with the clients coaching and empowering them with the necessary skills so that they may attain financial stability. Counseling takes anywhere between four to 12 months, she said.
The program also helps clients find reliable cars at a price they can afford. Too often, Steingrebe said, predatory car dealers take advantage of those who have little or no money to purchase a vehicle by offering loans with extremely high rates or shoddy vehicles.
More than Wheels will also loan cars to clients until they are able to purchase their own vehicle.
Leona Comeau, a resident of Worcester, is one of those clients. At the press conference she told those gathered how her life has been transformed since getting assistance from More than Wheels.
“My dreams are now coming true,” she said. “I's now going to college. I'se cleared all my bills and I's now down to one a month.”
Grossman noted how his father had often spoken of the need to “make optimism a way of life.”
“You are a great example of this,” he told Comeau. “If I could take you on the road, Leona, I would!”
Grossman also spoke of the pressing need for financial literacy to be taught to all students in grades K through 12. Financial assistance was also a priority for senior citizens and the commonwealth's approximately 38,000 veterans, he added.
“They need help building their financial futures, too,” he said.
Steingrebe said More Than Wheels was started in New Hampshire by Robert Chambers and Leo Hamill, former car salesmen who were frustrated at seeing so many people who were only being offered loans with high interest rates. Since the program's inception in 2001, it has helped more than 1500 people, she said, and helped clients obtain over $16 million in loans.
Along with Employment Options, More than Wheels will also be partnering with the Worcester Community Action Council, Oak Hill CDC and it's NeighborWorks? Home Ownership Center of Worcester, and The Salvation Army.
Those interested in the program can call 1-866-455-2522 or visit www.MoreThanWheels.org.? To contact Employment Options, call (508) 485-5051 or visit www.employmentoptions.org.