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Russell Bacon, lead tech at Hands of the Carpenter, works on the strut assembly and ball joints of a Jeep Patriot in Aurora. Hands of the Carpenter, originated in Golden, provides affordable cars and maintenance for single mothers around Denver. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

Rose Paz was dishing out money every month on car repairs. Once she needed new tires, another time she spent close to $2,000 for a new transmission. She uses her car to travel from her home in Arvada to her job in Aurora, plus take her kids to school and their other parent’s house.

“When you have one car and it’s your only mode of transportation, you’ll do everything to keep it running,” Paz said.

But now the single mother is driving a refurbished, donated vehicle that she got at a discount. She bought it from Hands of the Carpenter, a nonprofit that provides affordable cars, repairs and maintenance for single mothers in the Denver area.

The 20-year-old organization operates out of Golden and opened its second location in Aurora on May 14. An estimated 30,000 working, single women live on limited incomes within the new Aurora location’s service area. 

About 30,000 working, single women are estimated to live on limited incomes within the new shop’s service area in Aurora. (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)
The nonprofit hopes to open two more Denver-area locations by 2029.

The nonprofit serves around 250 moms per year at the Golden location. The second site will allow the organization to serve twice as many women annually, leaders said.

“We just want to remove obstacles that single moms face if they’re trying to be the sole provider for their family,” founder Dan Georgopulos said. “One of the major unmet needs we found a long time ago was transportation.”

Hands of the Carpenter offers two programs to help single moms. Clients pay 50% of the cost charged by competitors for one-time assistance with repairs or vehicle replacement. The other program lasts for three years, with clients paying 35% of the costs in the first year, 50% in the second and 75% in the third.

The nonprofit is hoping to open two more locations in the Denver area in the next five to seven years. Employees are emboldened by the results of a recent evaluation showing that women in the program saw at least a 28% increase in their income.

The organization received a direct loan for the building from donors organized by the nonprofit SVP Denver. Donors made a joint loan at a below-market rate, a new, innovative funding model already used twice to aid local nonprofits. The nonprofits get affordable funding in a challenging real estate market, while investors receive modest returns they then redistribute to other organizations.

Hands of the Carpenter employee Crystal Scott, client Annette Martinez and Aurora Mayor Mike Coffman at the opening of the organization’s new location on May 14, 2022. Martinez is holding the keys to a vehicle she got through the nonprofit. (Photo Courtesy of Daniel Mondragon, Hands of the Carpenter)

“All around, it’s a big winner,” said investor Justin Folkestad. “We get a chance to give them the money on a temporary basis, they get to use it, and then it comes back to the investment group to deploy it somewhere else in the community.”

Folkestad, who is on the board of both Hands of the Carpenter and SVP Denver, has been touched by the generational change that occurs when these moms are able to provide reliable transportation for their families. He said the stories of women missing job opportunities or their children missing doctor’s appointments because of challenges with transportation made him want to help the organization expand.

Auto service advisor Cinthia ‘Cin’ Cabral and lead tech Russell Bacon inspect a 1951 Mercury coupe. “For moms who are spending eight, nine hours a day at work and three hours of bus travel a day… that’s time that’s missed with your children,” Bacon said. “The mission that I’ve run into here the most is the difference that you’re making in people’s lives; their ability to live. Just having a reasonable source of transportation is incredible.” (Olivia Sun, The Colorado Sun via Report for America)

“You don’t realize how difficult the transportation really is in Denver,” Folkestad said. “Something that would take you 20 minutes in your car might take you two hours and several transfers on a bus.”

While many vehicle donation programs just take a car and sell it, the nonprofit’s donation program refurbishes as many cars as possible to make sure the women are driving away in safe vehicles. Georgopulos said he would love for the new location’s surrounding community in Aurora to embrace their mission by donating their vehicles. The donation process begins with an online form on the nonprofit’s website.

Hands of the Carpenter is a faith-based organization based on a biblical call to serve. Georgopulos said the faith element is not related to any requirements of the moms, but is incorporated into why the staff members do what they do.

“I would say that initially, as the founder, it was my Christian faith,” Georgopulos said. “As it has grown and changed, that means something different to each staff member, whether it’s their faith or their values or the way they were brought up or their passion to serve.”

Paz says the nonprofit saved her tons of time and money. The mechanics decided that more repairs on her old car weren’t worth it, something she hadn’t heard from other auto shops. After proving she was employed with an internship and had a good driving record, she was eligible to buy a car at just 35% of its value. She paid $3,350 and drove away in an insured vehicle that had been donated, then refurbished.  

Paz even got hired for a job within the organization as the client services coordinator. She said she roots for the women applying for the program because she wants them to have reliable and affordable transportation like she has found.

“I think if I had gotten [my car] outside of this program, I don’t think I would have been able to afford it,” Paz said. “I’d probably still be in the same car that I was in, trying to repair it and save it for the long run.”