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Nonprofit Spotlight: The Lift Garage - Changing the World One Car at a Time

Article and photos by Claudia Kittock

I’m sure all of you have been inconvenienced by a car repair. That moment always happens when you realize how much of life depends on a reliable car. How do you get groceries? How do you make appointments? How do you get to work?

I first met Cathy Heying on a Saturday in May when she agreed to come in an hour early to share the story of The Lift Garage with me. Her enthusiasm and passion for the work she does is amazing. Cathy is funny, kind, smart, and has a laser focus.

Cathy had spent most of her career working at St. Stephens. She held multiple positions during her 15 years working with people experiencing homelessness. Her clients told her over and over again about the obstacle of not having a dependable car. How do you get to work if your car isn’t working? How do you afford car repairs if you can’t get to work?

Cathy said she was plagued with the recurring thought that ‘somebody should do something about it’. While she struggled to ignore that voice, she took a tour of Dunwoody College of Technology in 2008 and was told that applications were due by the end of the week. After coming to terms with the idea of a 2 year program and more student loans, she sent in her application, was accepted and began in the fall of 2008.

Armed with a master’s degree in pastoral ministry, Heying assumed the training would be a ‘piece of cake’.  That’s not how it turned out. The training was rigorous and difficult, and Cathy persisted, working full time at St. Stephens while attending classes full time at Dunwoody. She graduated 2 years later with an AAS degree in auto technology.

Cathy said she was plagued with the
recurring thought that
‘somebody should do something about it’.

Still not sure what was coming next, she spent a year having conversations. The ‘language’ of nonprofits was a language she knew well, so in August of 2012 The Lift Garage received 501©3 status, with a projected opening in late 2013. Shortly after the decision had been made to open in 2013, Cathy got a call about renting a repair bay at Dan’s Car Wash, and in March of 2013 The Lift Garage opened at 5925 Nicollet Avenue S.

For all of 2013, the garage was open 1 day a week, and customers flocked to it. On the 3rd Saturday they were open, Cathy got a call from a woman in Lakeville who needed her help. She was calling because she had seen the information on a flyer...but there was no flyer!! Word of mouth was powerful and swift. Within a very short time, they were booked out 3 months, and Cathy knew she needed help. She had volunteers to help her with the office and the repairs, but more was needed.

By January of 2014, The Lift Garage was able to expand business hours to Wednesdays through Saturdays, and by the summer had hired both full time and part time staff. There are now 4 full time employees and the garage is open 50 hours a week. A mobile van has just been added with the goal of going out to assess repair issues to determine if it can be fixed or not. The Lift Garage still has a 3-month waiting list.

The service is for all Minnesotans who meet the 150% Federal Poverty Guideline. They charge only $15 per hour plus the cost of parts at no mark-up, serving all counties in Minnesota.

The goal is getting cars safe and back on the road, so they work on brakes, suspension and steering, starting and charging systems, fuel systems, exhaust systems, and heating and cooling systems (not air conditioning). They do not do work on transmissions or the body. They are also not able to do significant engine repairs such as head gaskets or engine rebuilds, and are no longer able to offer payment plans.

The Lift Garage costs approximately $30,000/month to run. Earned income for most months is $8,000-$10,000. Help is needed!

How can you help?

• Learn more at
• Donate at Please take note of the supplies needed.
Volunteer! Currently they are in need of:
  - Mechanics: Insurance requires certified or formally trained techs to work on cars.
  - Office assistants: Staffing phones, intakes, and payment.
  - Committee members to serve in areas of fundraising and finance. 
• If you are a caseworker you can fill out The Lift Garage – Income Verification Form and email it to or mail to PO Box 6992, Minneapolis, MN 55406. Once you send a referral the customer needs to call to set up an appointment.

Cathy Heying reminded me that fixing the problems we find in this world is about doing it. Don’t argue with that thought that ‘someone should do something about that’. Dig deep, ask yourself what you can do, take a deep breath, and get to work!

Claudia can be reached at

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Editor's Note - How humbling it is to be in the midst of a CNN Hero!

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