The Cooperative Ministry: Giving Columbia a LiftApr 03, 2017 08:27PM ● By Makayla Gay
On the evening of Saturday, Feb. 24, 2017, Brandon Gallis graduated from the 14-month Teen Challenge program, a faith-based recovery program for young adults with a history of drug or alcohol addiction. Gallis, who originally hails from Baltimore, struggled with alcohol addiction for nine years. He became dependent on alcohol at a young age, and it wasn’t until he was introduced to the Teen Challenge organization that he was able to embrace his sobriety. Gallis hasn’t had a drink for five years, and has been able to get his life back on track in Columbia.
Yet, there’s more to Brandon’s story than a young man overcoming his demons to become a productive member of society. Even though Brandon had picked up a job at the Good Life Café in downtown Columbia and started taking classes to pursue his G.E.D, he was finding it difficult to rely on Columbia’s public transportation to make it from place to place. It was becoming a real burden on his life and he was reluctant to rely on other people to make it to his many responsibilities.
“Living in Columbia without a car is very difficult,” said Gallis. “It takes a long time to get around because the city was not built with public transportation in mind.” Gallis was used to the efficient transit system in his native Baltimore and was taken aback by how long he had to wait to make it from place to place in Columbia.
Last year, Brandon was introduced to The Cooperative Ministry, a Columbia-based organization that works tirelessly to increase the economic self-sufficiency of people like Brandon—people who are working hard, but still face challenges to keep their heads above water. For almost 35 years, The Cooperative Ministry has been working with local faith-based organizations like Teen Challenge to find good people who may need a helping hand to alleviate a crisis that is making it difficult for them to be self-sufficient. Brandon’s case of needing reliable transportation is not an uncommon circumstance in the Midlands—in fact, it is one of the biggest challenges for the working poor. More than 1 in 7 of the working poor in the Columbia area do not have an automobile, and this often makes it difficult for them to hold down jobs. In fact, car ownership is positively associated with higher earnings and more work hours.
Luckily, The Cooperative Ministry has a program called Autos for Opportunities. The program takes donated automobiles and gives them to ideal candidates in the Midlands who could substantially benefit from reliable transportation. In this case, an ideal candidate is somebody who does not own a car, has a steady job that they have held for at least six months, has a S.C. driver’s license, a clean driving record, and has an income between 100 and 185 percent below the federal poverty line. Brandon met all this criteria and was urged to apply to the program. While he was on the waiting list for the Auto for Opportunities program, The Cooperative Ministry helped Brandon out by giving him free bus passes and eventually a bike that helped to alleviate some of the pressure he was feeling to get to all of his obligations.
The average applicant for the Autos for Opportunities program stays on the waiting list for at least six months before a car becomes available for them. However, Brandon called into The Cooperative Ministry sometime around Christmas last year to check on his status—five months after he was accepted to be an applicant—and was given some life-changing news. On Dec. 29, 2016, Brandon received a 1998 Toyota Corolla. According to Jessica Grote, director of financial sustainability programs at The Cooperative Ministry, “Brandon was an ideal candidate throughout the process, demonstrating his responsibility and also his ability to save. He was extremely gracious throughout the process. I am proud of how far he has come since we met a year ago.” Jessica has stayed in touch with Brandon after he received his automobile and even attended his Teen Challenge graduation.
Brandon simply beams when he talks about his car and even notes that the Toyota Corolla is one of the most dependable cars around. He enjoys not having to wake up so early to wait on the bus, and he’s glad he doesn’t have to bug his friends anymore about getting rides. Brandon is excited to pick up more hours at the Good Life Café, and his car has also made it possible for him to attend math-tutoring classes so that he can complete his G.E.D. In the future, he hopes to get his HVAC license and start his own business. But for now, Brandon is most excited to help out others with his new car. After all, sometimes giving somebody a lift goes a long way.
For more information about The Cooperative Ministry and their Autos for Opportunity program, visit www.coopmin.org or call 803-799-3853. Donating a car is easy and tax deductible—and any car, working or otherwise, is accepted..
For more information about Communities In Schools of the Midlands, visit www.cism.org or call 803-254-9727.
Chris Nelson is a public relations consultant. He works with DNA Creative Communications; an inspirational public relations firm for nonprofits and producer of Shine the Light Nonprofit Forums Chris enjoys sharing nonprofit stories as a contributor to several publications. He is a graduate of Bates College with a degree in English. For more information about DNA and Shine the Light, visit www.dnacc.com and www.nonprofitforums.org.