World War II veteran Charles “Chuck” Johnson went for a walk Sunday morning and came home with a car, a gift of the Car Care Clinic.
Johnson, who was homeless for years, was handed the keys to a 1994 Honda Accord on the same parking lot of Southern Hills Baptist Church where the Car Care Clinic got its start 14 years ago.
He was brought to the church by Joey Campbell, an Iraq War combat veteran who befriended him last year on the streets of downtown Tulsa.
Campbell, who was not homeless, said he lived as a homeless person for a couple of weeks to better understand how to help them.
Since then, he and others have helped Johnson find housing, and now a dependable car.
Johnson was shocked by the unexpected gift.
“My mouth was open. Nothing came out,” he said.
“There’s something about the American spirit that wants to help people, and it’s out of this world. As long as it continues, you’ll have cohesiveness in our country.
“I can’t believe this. And my car is such a mess. It’s about 20 years old, and it’s got a lot of miles.
“With a better car, I can get out to help other people. That’s where I’m coming from.”
Johnson described himself as a very careful driver.
“I’ve driven more than a million miles … I’ve never had an accident on the highway,” he said.
Lonnie Vaughan, founder of the Car Care Clinic, said the clinic had gone over the car thoroughly.
“It’s a good, dependable vehicle,” he said.
He said Johnson’s old vehicle was beyond repair.
Participating in the car giveaway was not the first good thing that happened to Vaughan this week.
The Oklahoma House of Representatives on Thursday passed a measure that will help charities like his that receive donated vehicles.
Senate Bill 1459 allows nonprofits to get temporary tags on donated vehicles.
Vaughan said the bill will be a great benefit to his organization and others like it because it will allow them to tag donated vehicles so they can legally test-drive them during the repair process, transport them, and allow prospective owners to drive them.
The bill was authored by Oklahoma Sen. Gary Stanislawski and Rep. Ken Walker, both Tulsa Republicans. Both of them attended Sunday morning’s giveaway ceremony.
“This legislation is extremely important because reliable transportation helps people get to and from work and the store, and get their kids to the doctor,” Walker said.
He said when transportation fails, it has a ripple effect on the whole family.
Walker said the bill was approved earlier by the Senate, and Thursday by the House, with one amendment, which limits the number of temporary tags a nonprofit can get to eight. It now goes back to the Senate.
Stanislawski said he heard about Car Care Clinic last year, and learned from Vaughan about the need for temporary tags.
“I said, ‘Well, I’ll just write a bill on that,’” he said.
He said the bill will go back to the Senate for approval of the House amendment.
“I don’t anticipate any problem with that. Then it goes to the governor.”
Car Care Clinic’s main service is providing low-cost repair of vehicles for low to moderate income people, Vaughan said, but they also receive about 100 to 125 donated vehicles a year.
“We go through the donated vehicles, get them in the best mechanical condition possible, and then sell them that at greatly reduced prices, or give them away, as we have done today,” he said.
DeeAnn Watford, director of Inside Out Re-entry Services, helping women transition out of prison, attended the ceremony. She said her ministry has received three vehicles from the Car Care Clinic.
“They’ve been a huge blessing,” she said. “Not only did they donate the vehicles, but they also maintain them.”
Vaughan said the clinic has expanded to three locations, Rivergate Church at 71st Street and Riverside Drive, where they use the old service bays in what was a former Wal-Mart, and also J&E Automotive, and their own full-service facility with four employees at 2431 E. Admiral Place. The clinic services cars six days a week.
It is funded by donations and a federal grant, and heavily supported by volunteer mechanics and other workers.
For more about the Car Care Clinic go to carcareclinic.info or call 918-938-6444.
Bill Sherman 918-581-8398