FRONT ROYAL — The Auto Care Clinic is a good place to get a vehicle repaired. It’s also a place that has changed 39 lives and counting.

Bill and Sandy Long, owners of the Auto Care Clinic in Front Royal and Warren County, have been running a nonprofit and ministry called Cars Changing Lives since 2020. The couple repairs donated cars and gives them away to qualifying recipients in the community.

Since 2018, they have given away 39 cars. They gave away five so far this year. But as the program grows, the couple is looking toward the community for assistance. 

In 2018, Bill Long decided he wanted to give a car away for Easter, and the couple started Cars Changing Lives as a contest.

They opened it up for people in the community to nominate folks that were in need of transportation. After advertising the contest, Sandy Long said they received more than 40 nominations.

The Longs gathered three community members to form a committee to review applications and choose the best candidate.

After interviewing four candidates, one of the committee members told the Longs that he had good news and bad news. The good news? All four people were deserving candidates. 

“And I said ‘Well then what's the bad news?’ And they said, ‘You need to give away four cars,’” Sandy Long said.

The Longs had two cars in the chute ready to donate, but they didn’t know where to get the other two.

The Longs and their review committee went out to dinner to discuss what they were going to do, when two of the committee members got up to call their spouses. When they came back, they said they wanted to donate their own extra cars for the contest.

“We did it again in 2019. And that year, we gave away three cars,” Sandy Long said.

Similarly, more than 40 people were nominated that year, and the Longs only had one car to give away. But they found two more. 

The Longs turned their contest into a nonprofit officially in February of 2020.

The couple works with several churches in Warren County as well as organizations like the Phoenix Project, United Way, Salvation Army and St. Luke Community Clinic. 

Since a community member needs to nominate the recipient, the Longs look to case managers and members of these organizations to pick the right person.

Most of the cars are donated from the community, Sandy Long said. She said the auto shop will take any car donated within a 20 mile radius to Front Royal — whether it’s running or not.

The couple repairs the vehicles at the shop but they're looking to partner with the community as their nonprofit grows. 

Since the Longs are operating the program themselves, they are looking for some volunteers. Sandy Long said they could use people to help with administrative work such as emailing, fundraising and grant writing. She said they are also looking for partners like auto mechanic schools or detailing shops to help repair cars. 

And of course, they could always use car donations. 

After being nominated for Cars Changing Lives, a candidate must write an impact statement so the Longs can choose the right person and have that information for potential grants.

“Some of the words written on those impact statements are truly from their heart, and it will just bring me to tears,” Sandy Long said.

One year, a mother received a car and her 16-year-old son told the Longs that he was now able to sign up for sports and after-school programs.

“They had never had a car in their entire life,” Sandy Long said.

Not only do they get thank-you’s from the recipients but also friends of the recipient. The Longs said they’ve received many kind words from folks in the community who were giving rides to car recipients.

Bill Long said he and his wife generally try to give back to the community in any way they can.

“We just want to be good corporate stewards, and we don't plan on stopping. It's dreadful sometimes, but it's very rewarding,” Bill Long said.

Sandy Long said an auto repair shop based out of North Dakota, which has given away around 350 cars, inspired the couple to put their dream into reality.

“So we're only on 39. But you’ve got to start somewhere,” she said.

Bill Long said he and his wife were on the way to an award banquet in Woodstock when they noticed the car in front of them had a sticker on the back that read “Cars Changing Lives.”

“In front of us was a car we'd given away a couple years ago,” he said. “It just stayed in the community and it's benefiting somebody here local in our community.”

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