Nonprofit that connects cars with deserving families takes off at NaperLaunch Academy
Romas Povilonis has always been around cars.
Growing-up on his family's farm, he created a two-seater dune buggy from old car parts that ran around the fields for years. Later, knowing he was a car enthusiast, his high school teachers would come to him when they needed a repair.
So, when Romans found out that there were people in the suburbs who had no car, making it difficult to get to work or drive their kids to school, he decided to do something about it.
For over a decade, Romas has served as executive director for Cars of Hope, a 501(c)3 nonprofit organization run by volunteers that repair and donate cars to deserving families in the western suburbs of Chicago.
"We're giving cars to the people in our community, the community we live in; our people are benefitting," he said." If someone donates a car in Naperville, you're helping someone in your neighborhood."
The premise of the organization is simple: donate your vehicle to Cars of Hope and they'll make sure it is used to help an under-resourced family in the Western suburbs. Whether it's running or not, Cars of Hope will take the vehicle and make repairs needed in order to ensure it's safe, reliable and affordable for families to maintain. If it's not, they sell the vehicle at auction -- or scrap it for parts -- and use the proceeds to pay for repairs at a professional automotive shop that work with Cars of Hope on a nonprofit basis.
The families that receive vehicles are usually connected with Cars of Hope through local partner organizations. Currently, they work with Hesed House, Caring Network of Illinois, LifeSpring, Wayside Cross, Nativity House and Community Christian Church.
"We really want to help ensure that our recipients have a community supporting them after they receive the car," Romas said. "We always want to make sure they have a support network behind them in case they've fallen on hard times again."
Before the keys are exchanged, a 20-minute donation celebration is held where fresh license plates are put on, a prayer is said, and a discussion is held about how having the car will immediately and positively impact their life.
Romas, who previously worked as an engineer at Caterpillar for 37 years, is a recent graduate of the NaperLaunch Academy, a free 17-week business curriculum designed to help entrepreneurs develop fundamental business knowledge, improve salesmanship and leadership skills and learn the "lean startup process."
He has employed a sales methodology, based on training developed by Xerox Corporation, to better understand his customers, used NaperLaunch's digital resource databases and relied on support from business mentors at SCORE Fox Valley.
"NaperLaunch Academy has really helped me take Cars of Hope to the next level of professionalism and success," he said.
Kent Palmer, Business Services Librarian and NaperLaunch Facilitator, believes that Romas epitomizes the experienced founder who has launched an enterprise successfully, but still faces some sort of resistance.
"In Romas' case, he developed a deeper understanding of his value proposition," he said. "We find that the NaperLaunch Academy experience helps entrepreneurs to review and think again about what they are trying to achieve. Things usually crystallize, and they have a fresh start and suddenly, they identify something that gets them over the hurdle, or whatever it is that has slowed their progress."
In the new year, Romas hopes to grow the donation base for Cars of Hope even further. His goal is to donate one vehicle per month, with hopes of one day getting that number to two or three.
For now, Romas and Cars of Hope will continue to help those who have fallen on hard times and needing a vehicle to help them get to places of employment and become financially independent.
"We've had a couple of car recipients who've come back to us and told us they had the car running for another six or seven years," he said. "They were financially back on their feet and in turn, they were helping people in their community with their transportation needs."
To learn more about Cars of Hope, call (224) 216-CARS or visit www.carsofhope.org.
The next session of the NaperLaunch Academy begins on Tuesday, Jan. 14. Learn more by attending the next NaperLaunch Academy Open House at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 7, at the Nichols Library.
For more information on NaperLaunch, and to find out how to become a NaperLaunch Academy member, visit www.naperlaunch.org.