Cars with Heart
Innovative Austin village for chronically homeless rolls out new auto service shop
Just eight miles east of downtown, Austin nonprofit Mobile Loaves & Fishes has created an innovative solution for Austin’s chronic homeless population called Community First! Village. Opened in 2016, the village is part of a 51-acre master planned community that provides permanent housing and job training for Austinites suffering housing insecurity.
Currently, Community First! provides homes for more than 200 people — homes they have to rent and maintain. There is also an on-site Community Works program featuring micro-enterprises and opportunities for men and women to earn a dignified income, develop skills, and build relationships.
The goal of the micro-enterprises is to teach life and professional skills for residents. (The most popular and widely known attraction is an Alamo Drafthouse-funded outdoor theater with resident-staffed concession stand.) Other enterprises include a screen printing shop, a three-acre community garden, a woodshop plus contemporary blacksmith shop, and an art center where residents can create work which they sell in return for 100 percent of the profits.
Earlier this year, Community First! Village added yet another endeavor: a fully functioning car care center.
Two years ago, Charles Maund Toyota was searching for additional projects to grow its local give-back program. After learning about Community First! Village, Charles Maund community liaison Drew Davis connected with MLF development director Donna Emery. Together with operations manager Larry Crawford, the team built out a plan to expand the property’s mobile truck service center into a full auto shop called Community First! Car Care.
For 18 months, the teams at Community First! and Charles Maund worked to make the dream a reality. Davis credits the dealership's general manager, Jim Dimeo, with providing the necessary support to turn the dream into a reality.
“He pretty much gave me total freedom to develop the project utilizing Charles Maund Toyota’s resources," explains Davis. With those resources in place, the new car care shop would be fully equipped to do basic car services completed by residents of Community First! Village, and funded and supported by the dealership.
As the shop was being constructed, residents began training in earnest. They spent nearly a year at Charles Maund Toyota’s service center, learning how to change oil, detail vehicles, do car inspections, and more.
Rey Cantu, the shop foreman at the dealership, was the perfect guy to take on this project. According to Davis, he’s the kind of person who hosts backyard barbecues every weekend to support charitable causes for friends and neighbors. "[Rey] meets everyone where they are," says Davis. "He has shown so much patience and compassion and taken his time to make sure they feel confident and secure.”
In October, Community First! Car Care officially opened, and is currently staffed by eight residents, including a former auto-technician. “[Staff members] care deeply about what they’re doing and are so excited to be working again,” Davis explains.
Referred to by Alan Graham, CEO and founder of Mobile Loaves & Fishes, as “car service with a heart,” the operation offers car washes (basic to detail), oil changes with a 21-point check, state inspections, tire repair, and windshield wiper replacement, all at competitive prices.
To have a service done at the East Austin shop, online appointment scheduling is recommended.