Molly Cantrell-Kraig, founder of Women With Drive Foundation
©Linda Horton Photography, Chicago
“I hitched a ride with a friend who was a welder at a local factory,” said Cantrell-Kraig. “He would drop me off two hours early for [college] classes, where I would do my homework at a restaurant across the street from the main campus before school.”
Cantrell-Kraig graduated and began working, and was then able to buy a reliable car and provide for her family. She credits her success to a trustworthy mechanic, Steve Curry of Curry’s Auto, Inc. in Muscatine, IA.
“He helped me to not only learn about how to take care of my car, but also how to budget maintenance costs,” said Cantrell-Kraig. “To this day, I would trust him with a blank check.”
Cantrell-Kraig now dedicates her life to helping women in the same predicament she was once in, through the Women with Drive Foundation (WWDF). She started WWDF three-and-a-half years ago; a dream she had wanted to make a reality since 1997.
“I have a media background, not a nonprofit administrative background,” said Cantrell-Kraig. “One of my friends, financial analyst Carol Roth told me, ‘Expect it to take three times as long as you think it will and for it to cost three times as much.’ She was right."
For the first three years, Cantrell-Kraig funded the operation with her personal savings. She spent 6--9 months researching where similar organizations had failed, to be sure her project would be worth the investment.
“The momentum we're building is significant and every day we forge one more meaningful relationship designed to provide a solution to systemic, generational poverty,” said Cantrell-Kraig.
The foundation, which started in Iowa and recently relocated to Chicago, IL, donates refurbished vehicles to female candidates who are in a crunch.
A quick glance at WWDF's application for women in need of their own safe and secure transportation.
So, what categorizes a Women With Drive?
“The number one quality we look for in a candidate is self-determination. She must want a new life for herself. We do not approach the equation with the idea of ‘saving people,’” said Cantrell-Kraig. “We partner with women in transition; women with drive. These are women who know that they want something different; they just lack access, transportation and systems to teach her how to become herself. Technically, the qualifications are listed on our website: must be drug free, employed or engaged in a program designed to help her become independent.”
Local nonprofits, including Jane Addams Resources Corporation, the Department of Human Services, and various churches, lend a hand in the selection process.
“These capacity-building organizations help provide the support for the two years our participant is in the programs,” said Cantrell-Kraig.
An application and interview with the WWDF board is also required for consideration, she added.
“I remember the first time I opened a letter from a woman who applied for a car,” said Cantrell-Kraig. “I had to sit down and cry for a second, gathering myself. It hit me like a ton of bricks: someone was putting her trust in me and our organization to help her and her children. It was humbling and reminded me of the quote from Jim Rohn, ‘Success is something you attract by the person you become.’"
Before the car giveaway process can start, a functional vehicle must be obtained. As of now, cars are donated through churches or privately by individuals. According to Cantrell-Kraig, usually it’s a scenario where the children have gone off to college or an elderly relative can no longer drive, leaving the vehicle unused. Cantrell-Kraig said she initially approached car dealerships, but they wanted the foundation to buy the cars, which would’ve been out of their budget. However, she said they are still open to form a partnership with either a dealership or car rental company, such as Hertz, Enterprise or Carfax.
“It's one of the reasons we moved to a larger metropolitan area,” Cantrell-Kraig added.
Once a vehicle is donated, it is taken to an Authorized Service Vendor who appraises it, and arranges for WWDF to take title of the car. If it isn’t salvageable or it’s worth “too much” for a participant to maintain and insure, the vehicle or vehicle parts are sold and 100 percent of the proceeds benefit WWDF. If it is worth refurbishing, a mechanic will perform repairs and tune-ups to ensure the recipient has a safe, functional vehicle.
“The women [then] buys the car outright, in order to satisfy insurance liability issues. For example, Marcie's 1999 Honda Accord had a Kelly Blue Book value of $4,900, but she purchased it for the cost of tax and title transfer, which came to around $200,” explained Cantrell-Kraig. “This gives the participant a ‘stretch goal’ or a stake in her own future and absolves us from absorbing risk. Participants are required to carry mandated state insurance on the car for the entire time she is in our program. She also pays for her own fuel. Once she purchases the car, it is hers.”
Cantrell-Kraig said the WWDF has not partnered with other car giveaway programs, such as Recycled Rides, but hopes the recent move to Chicago will open more doors for the foundation. She also said she is looking to form partnerships with rideshare companies or on-demand transportation services like Zipcar, Enterprise, Lyft and Uber.
When asked about the reach of her program, Cantrell-Kraig responded, “We are not national yet, but our boards, local and national advisory, are exploring the method and means to scale to meet a national need. Our Articles of Incorporation are in Iowa, but…we are currently transferring our legal apparatus to operate [in Chicago]. That said, our existing legal structure enables us to award vehicles in every state.”
Cantrell-Kraig stresses the importance of working together to improve the lives of women and children in the United States.
“Each of us has been in a place where the kindness and confidence of another has helped alter our outcomes,” she said.