Amazing Kids! Magazine

Amazing Mentor Spotlight Interview with Cathy Heying

By Ashley Lin, Assistant Editor, Adult Spotlight Interviewer, and Poetry Editor


Last month, when my dad, driving in his tiny little Beetle, ran over a rock (I know, right?!), the water tank broke. Auto insurance didn’t cover it, and to repair it costed upwards $3,000 dollars – my parents were devastated. Devastated, period. My family was fortunate enough to have that money on hand, so the Beetle could be fixed. My dad still went to work, I was still able to get to school, my sisters still able to get to swim lessons. But what if someone just didn’t have that money on hand? $3,000 could be more than someone makes in 1 month – what would they do?

This spurred the formation of the Lift Garage, a nonprofit aimed to move people out of poverty and homelessness by providing low-cost car repair, free pre-purchase car inspections, and honest advice that support the community on the road, leading to safer lives. No access to affordable auto care can have a domino effect – if people can’t get their cars fixed, they can’t go to work, meaning they’d lose their jobs and lack money to pay the rent or the bills. Also, do you think it’s safe to drive in a car whose breaks or headlights don’t work? Sometimes, when people cannot find affordable auto care, they couldn’t afford to stop driving some dangerous vehicles.

For four years, the Lift has served about 1000 customers, completed more than 2200 repairs, and saved more than $830,000. Interested in knowing more? Today, we have the opportunity to hear from Founder and Executive Director herself, Cathy Heying, so read on!

Amazing Kids (AK): What inspired or called you to create the Lift Garage?

Cathy Heying (CH): I was working with people in poverty and I saw so many times how people’s life changed (in both good and bad ways) because of having a car or not. If they could get or keep a car running they were able to stay at their job, continue to pay rent, or move out of poverty. If their car broke down they would lose jobs and end up homeless. I kept thinking that we need to offer some sort of service to help fill in this gap to prevent more tragedy.

AK: Can you explain more about the Lift Garage, and the services you offer? Why is this important for people who can’t afford auto care?

CH: The Lift Garage provides car repair for $15 an hour for labor plus parts at cost. Most shops charge at least $100/hr for labor and they often double or triple the price that they paid for the parts. So customers at The Lift are getting a significant discount. We do most repairs but we do not do major repairs like transmissions and replacing engines. We also offer free pre-purchase inspections if customers are looking to buy a car. This means that they can bring us the car before they buy it and we’ll do a full inspection on it for free to make sure that the car doesn’t have any major problems. Finally, we have a mobile van that does diagnostic visits to some customer’s homes to determine if their car is able to be fixed before they bring it to the garage.

AK: If you were asked to describe the Lift Garage in one sentence, what would it be and why?

CH: The Lift Garage is a place of welcome and hospitality that provides low cost car repair and honest advice to low income Minnesotans.

AK: How has the Lift Garage changed over time, and what are your goals for the future?

CH: The Lift has been open for five years. For the entire first year we were only open 1 day a week, borrowing a bay from another business. We also relied only on volunteers to do all of the work. Now, five years later, we are open 5 days a week, we have 4 repair bays, and 9 staff. So we’ve changed a lot!!! Despite all of that growth, the demand for our services is still big. Customers have to wait up to 10 weeks for an appointment which is too long! So our goals are to continue to raise more money so we can open a bigger shop to serve more people.

AK: What is the most memorable moment you have had with a person the Lift Garage has served, and how did it impacted your life?

CH: I once had an elderly customer who lived with some physical disabilities. She brought us her car for repair but we quickly realized that the cost to fix the car was way more than the car was worth. We advised her to put the money into a newer car. She gently but firmly pointed out to me that the $500 she saved for these repairs would never buy a different car and even if she had more money, she had no internet and no one able to take her to look for a different car. Sometimes I forget how many small privileges I have that make my life so much easier. I can shop for a car online and when I find one I am interested in, I have another car that I can drive to the dealership and I have lots of friends who could help me too. All of these things mean that I can shop around to get a good car at a good price. Many people don’t have that advantage.

AK: The Lift Garage has had many accomplishments, serving over 660 customers, completed more than 1,300 repairs and saved more than $475,000. That seems pretty big! How do you define success?

CH: It is big! And if you would have told me when I started this if The Lift was going to get this big I wouldn’t have believed it. We are successful at that big level but to me, every time a car comes in broken and drives away or every time we treat a customer with kindness and dignity then we have succeeded.

AK: What are the challenges to running a constantly growing and expanding nonprofit, and what makes everything “worth it”?

CH: Sometimes it can be hard to plan ahead when you are trying to deal with the day to day issues, but at the same time it is so important to be thoughtful about how you grow. It can be a lot of work to both deal with immediate issues while trying to plan for the future. It is easy to work too much or too hard and it’s important to take time to refresh and renew yourself. But if you do it well, you will see positive and concrete results: serving more people, raising more money, having happy employees and volunteers. That makes it worth it.

AK: How can everyday students help out with the Lift Garage mission?

CH: An important piece of our mission at The Lift Garage is to treat every person who walks through our door with hospitality (greeting them warmly, welcoming them, offering them something to drink, etc.), with dignity and kindness. While this doesn’t specifically have to do with fixing cars, it is how we believe we should treat every person. So, students everywhere can practice this: be kind, greet people, and make sure they are acknowledged and heard. Especially with people you don’t like! Also, The Lift Garage started because I paid attention to a need that wasn’t being met in our community. You do not have to do big things to do great things. What
need isn’t being met in your school or neighborhood? Is there an elderly person on your block that you notice never gets visitors? Then visit! Is there always garbage on the school yard? Start a weekly after school garbage pick-up!

AK: What is one piece of advice you would give to a student that you wish someone would’ve told you earlier?

CH: It’s so easy to be afraid and to let that fear stop you. Don’t! Find one small thing that you are scared to do and do it. Then try a slightly bigger thing that you’re afraid of it and do it. Overcoming fear is usually done by practice. You can do hard things.

AK: Who has been a mentor or confidante to your throughout your life or your journey with the Lift Garage?

CH: One of my mentors on my journey with The Lift is Dave DuVal. Dave was the first instructor I had when I went back to automotive tech school at the age of 38. I was scared and overwhelmed and Dave was a constant source of support and encouragement to me. We are very different in many ways and I wouldn’t have thought that he’d become a mentor to me but just remember that life can surprise you and your best support may come from a person you least expect.

Thank you so much, Cathy Heying, for taking the time to share with us your insights on making the world a better place. The Lift Garage is such an inspiring and important initiative, and I hope that every individual reading this today will be empowered to impact their communities themselves!