Wheels to Prosper

Nita thanks Steve for her FREE CAR!

You know how great it feels when you get something for free and you had no idea it was coming?  That’s what happened this weekend to a Chicago woman. A panel of judges in Chicago’s Edison Park neighborhood spent weeks pouring over nomination letters to determine which ONE person in the Chicago area most deserves a free car.

“Cars are always something I knew I was gonna do,” says Steve Ek who looks more like a reggae loving surfer duge than the owner of an automotive repair shop.  Actually, he’s all three, a musician, surfer, and auto mechanic.  “I’m in business. But, I’m not a person that’s hung up on money. You know, to me it’s more about people.”  He likes to tell people he got only 500 feet in life, growing up right down the block near the Edison Park Metra line.  Though modest, Ek’s done pretty well for himself.  “And then there’s people that are fallen on hard times out of work, maybe took a job that doesn’t pay as much, but still coach the local softball team, and still volunteer at the school. But they didn’t give up, they keep going. And my thinking is, if we help them, imagine what they could do then.” Like other repair shop owners, Ek sometimes ends up with cars too costly to fix, so the owners walk away. 

He was at a conference last year talking with other shop owners when… “lightbulbs started popping. I thought how hard would it be to fix some of those and start giving ‘em away?” They call their free cars, “Wheels to Prosper.”  Ek knew just what car he’d bring back to life. It’s a 2005 Ford Escape with a blown engine. Steve got his hands dirty, and so did all the guys who work for him. But the biggest helper may have been NAPA Chicago.   Jay Hackleman is their sales manager. . “He was in the process of looking for an engine for this vehicle.  And I said let me make a few phone calls.  And I said let NAPA cover the cost of the engine. It was basically whatever the car needs to keep it running right, that’s what we want to do.”  Steve says, “We did suspension work, shocks, struts, brakes, tires.” 

The only thing the car needs now is an oil change every 3,000 miles and a new owners. As he dangles the keys he says, “I can’t wait to hand ‘em off.”  Last Friday, Ek threw a big party to announce the winner of his car.  “We came here for a reason. The candidates, Jennifer, Marlena, and I’m just gonna say Nita.  That’s me. (waves)  One person is gonna drive away.  I’ve got the keys and I’ve got a title for a car.  And the winner is Nita Curtis.  

“I know she’s the kind of person that’s just gonna pay it forward.  I hope that other people can see that person’s joy and go… I wish I could make somebody feel like that.” Nita gives Steve a big hug and thanks him.  “You’re so welcome, you’re so deserving. I don’t know who’s shaking more me or you.”  “It’s been really hard for us to get the kids around for about 5-6 months.  And it’s just been so hard for us.  To get something like this is just amazing. It looks good on me, right?  I’m a stay at home mom and a student pursuing my psychology degree. I’m a Mom of 7.  My baby was just born 4 weeks ago. This is Gianna Faith. Thank you 4X for doing this for me and my kids. (EDIT) My husband can stay off the bus with the groceries and we can just go about being a family again.  We’re leaving, us and Steve Rosse.  We’re out of here Steve.  Bye, drive safe.”  (The family drives away)

Nita named her new car Steve Rose, Steve after Steve Ek, and Rose after her great friend Rosse Garcia who nominated her.  15 other auto shop owners across the country also gave away cars last weekend.  When we asked Steve if he’d give another car away next year, his answer? … at leaset once a year.          Steve stresses that this is not charity, it’s giving, and there’s a difference.  And he has no doubt that Nita and her family will return the favor tenfold.  If you’d like to know more about Wheels to Prosper, click these links.