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Need a greasy (but helping) hand?

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By John Foster

So much for retired.In the last four years, mechanic Leon Small and other volunteers at Northeast Christian Church’s auto ministry garage in Buckner have repaired 316 vehicles for families who need transportation.316 vehicles – That amounts to a lot of elderly people who now have a way to get to the doctor, Small said. That’s a lot of parents who can now get a job, because they can now get to a job.That’s several victims of domestic abuse at RoseHaven who now have their own car, RoseHaven Executive Director Betty Decker said. She said many women come to the center without a car, having left an abusive relationship where the boyfriend or husband owned a car.“They just break away with nothing,” Decker said, and this ministry gives them the transportation they need to get a job and start the process of gaining self-sufficiency.That 316 includes an occasional car like the ‘02 Honda Odyssey with leather interior sitting in the lot right now. That car will go to a pastor doing urban ministry in Louisville, volunteer Bill Reynolds said.But that number includes more cars like the ‘93 Volvo wagon with 280,000 miles but which runs like a Kenyan marathoner. This car will go to an elderly man on a fixed income who is crippled by a bad hip, Small said.That 316 includes a few cars like a Dodge Ramcharger with monster truck wheels. They sold it to pay for oil for more practical cars, Reynolds said.That 316 includes more than a few they first loaded on a trailer to transport to the shop. Many are scrapped for tires and junk parts.But, “We make a good car out of some of ‘em,” Small said.The number doesn’t include the numerous repairs Small completes for people in need — free of charge.Small started fixing cars more than 45 years ago as “just a grease monkey,” he said. He later owned a Ford-Lincoln-Mercury dealership in Iowa.Small retired and moved to Oldham County several years ago to be near his granddaughters. But when they graduated from high school, he found free time without school events to attend, and he got tired of mowing the lawn, he said. At about the same time, a group of men from the church started brainstorming a auto salvage and repair ministry for folks who need a car but can’t afford one.There used to be similar ministries in the Louisville area, Northeast Christian Church Benevolence Coordinator Jacque Reynolds said. But now Northeast is the only organization that gives free cars to the needy. As a result, there is a backlog of people wanting cars, and Small spends most days at the garage at Ky. 146 and S. Ky. 393 in Buckner repairing as many as he can. Reynolds takes care of the car titles and taxes, and a few other men come to work when they have time.Small works at his own pace, taking time to lean up against a car door and chat if the situation calls for it. He gets the car in good working order and in safe order — taking off every wheel and inspecting every brake among other things.But he doesn’t fool with the radio or air conditioning. If someone is too concerned about those things, they probably don’t need a car that bad anyway, he said. Reynolds said repairing air conditioners can cost more than the value of the car.As Small wrenched a few rusted nuts during a recent morning, his friend Steve Young arrived in his vintage Ford Bronco.“What you tearing up?” Young asked.“Anything I can get my hands on,” Small said in a voice as relaxed as an afternoon bass fishing.Young, a former UPS pilot, works a couple hours most days. He said his time repairing cars for others slows down his personal hot rod projects, but he’s glad to do it, even if he doesn’t have the wealth of experience Small does.“I’m just an old dummy who’s been around machines my whole life,” Young said.He said he likes that fixing up cars is a good way to help people without receiving too much recognition. He knows some people who take cars from the ministry probably could afford the cars on their own, maybe they turn around and sell it. But he also knows the other end of the spectrum.See, that 316 amount is slightly deceptive — some of those cars have been donated twice. Young said every once in a while, someone who accepts a donated car drives it for a year or two, and once they get on their feet, they donate the car in return for someone else to use.That’s all the reward he needs, he said.Those wishing to donate a car, or fill out an application for a fixed-up car, should call Jacque Reynolds at Northeast Christian Church. She said there is an eight-page application, including information about income, debt, faith and references.She said they can use donations — all eligible for a tax write-off — of parts, tires, batteries or oil.She said they accept any type of vehicle, and if they can’t use it, they’ll sell it to fund the ministry.“We’re open to any vehicle you can row, drive or tow,” she said.

E-mail us about this story at: jfoster@oldhamera.com.