AUSTIN — A broken fuel gauge put a crimp in Sara Abella's day recently.

"I was driving to work, and I ran out of gas," she said. "My sister had to bring me a container of gas."

On Saturday, her mom brought the family car to the Single Mom Car Clinic at Austin's Veterans Pavilion, hosted by Mission 507, a nonprofit organization that works to help single mothers, widows, and wives of deployed members of the military.

Ariet Ojullu, second from left, and her daughters attended the Single Moms Car Clinic Saturday, May 15, 2021, at Veterans Pavilion Park in Austin. Ojullu brought her car in to find out what all needed to be fixed and get an appointment for with a mechanic to keep her car running safely. (Brian Todd/btodd@postbulletin.com)
Ariet Ojullu, second from left, and her daughters attended the Single Moms Car Clinic Saturday, May 15, 2021, at Veterans Pavilion Park in Austin. Ojullu brought her car in to find out what all needed to be fixed and get an appointment for with a mechanic to keep her car running safely. (Brian Todd/btodd@postbulletin.com)

"It offers you security, and you feel safe on the road," Abella said.

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Her mother, Ariet Ojullu, said she's not much of a mechanic, so when she heard of the clinic through her church, Cornerstone Church, she jumped at the chance to have the car looked over by experts who could tell her what needed to be done to keep her GMC Envoy running.

The fuel gauge, she said, was just the start of her car's problems.

Brian Theobald, who organizes and founded the annual event, said the goal for the past eight years has been to make sure women in need have cars that start, stop and drive to ensure they have reliable transportation.

"We'll see anything from (transmissions) going out to brakes," he said.

In most instances, the expert volunteers diagnose the car's troubles, then find a repair shop to fix the cars, and Mission 507 helps with the cost of repairs to ease the car owners' financial burden. But when a car is too far gone, Theobald said they have a few used cars that run they can give to people in need.

"We look at the cost of what it'll take to fix them," he said. "If the cost is too high, we talk to the moms."

Six years ago, Karen Emery was one of those moms. Back then, she needed a vehicle, and Mission 507, along with her church, came through with a van that lasted her five years.

This year, Emery said she's back with a car she's buying from her daughter. At a recent oil change, the mechanic told her the tie rods on needed replacing soon. He told her to fill out an application for the car care clinic, and now her car has a checklist of items and a date next week with a mechanic.

Having a car to get around, Emery said, "It's more important to me than anything."

Theobald said Saturday the 30 volunteers — everyone from mechanics to prayer groups — would see about 35 vehicles. Most would be fixed, though he expected a few women might need a used car that's been refurbished to get them by for now.

The inspiration, he said, came after he felt moved by God. He had a dream of winning the lottery, and in his dream, he followed around those less fortunate giving away cars anonymously. That dream turned into the nonprofit he now runs to help women in need with their vehicles.

A team of volunteers checks a vehicle a the Single Moms Car Clinic Saturday, May 15, 2021, at Veterans Pavilion Park in Austin. The annual clinic helps keep cars running for single mothers, widows and wives of deployed military members. (Brian Todd/btodd@postbulletin.com)
A team of volunteers checks a vehicle a the Single Moms Car Clinic Saturday, May 15, 2021, at Veterans Pavilion Park in Austin. The annual clinic helps keep cars running for single mothers, widows and wives of deployed military members. (Brian Todd/btodd@postbulletin.com)

Joshua McGuffey, an auto mechanic with three decades of experience, said he and his team would perform a safety check to make sure each car could stop, start and steer, then present a list of work that needed to be done to keep the cars on the road.

Theobald then met with car owners to set up appointments at area mechanic shops where the work will be done.

Other volunteerscollected items for gift baskets, including gift cards, pillows and blankets, snacks for the kids, and other goodies or treats for the families.

Theobald suggested any woman who might have trouble affording repairs go to the participating Austin-area churches — Cornerstone Church, Faith Church, Westminster Presbyterian and First United Methodist — next March to get an application for the May 2022 clinic.

Theobald said this year's budget for financial assistance was a significant increase from past years.

"I used to worry about the money coming in, but God provides," he said, adding a story from the program's inaugural run. "Our first year, I had one car to give away. And when it was gone, someone donated two more."