The Higher Power Garage’s goal is to be a bridge between a person’s worst day and better times by providing necessary repairs to the vehicle. The need has grown since it opened two years ago, and now the garage is looking to expand its services.
Higher Power Garage opened on June 1, 2020 as a low-cost auto repair shop serving the Joplin area. The shop works with single parents, veterans, and people on fixed incomes. Mike Gideon, chairman of the operation, said that outside of homes, cars are the most important investment people make and the costs of maintenance can be overwhelming.
“Especially with our economy the way it is right now, those on fixed incomes don’t really get any relief,” Gideon said. “If their car’s brakes go bad or their tires go bad, they just don’t have the money to get their car fixed. Our job here is to step in and help them in this time of need.
A serious vehicle problem can be the first domino to fall on the road to roaming. Gideon has repeatedly said he sees a snowball effect, as a broken down car can lead to job loss, bills falling behind, and then the loss of a home. The goal of Higher Power Garage is to break a person out of this cycle. Although they do not impose the religion on anyone, they often encourage people to find a family of followers and to pray with each family they serve.
“People we meet, often they feel like they’re up against a wall,” Gideon said. “We want to help them through a difficult time. We are only one step on the way. It’s so refreshing to see people come in and find that there is help, God is working on their behalf.
In addition to auto repairs, the shop is also looking for indicators of why someone might be having trouble. Gideon said early on that he noticed that many cars that came in for repairs didn’t get regular preventative maintenance.
So Higher Power Garage has put together a monthly basic car maintenance course that teaches things like oil and tire checks, and what the lights on the dashboard mean. Sometimes these classes are needed as part of their services. Classes are also free to the public.
The store also runs a course on basic budgeting to help customers get back on their feet financially. They also help connect clients with local aid agencies and government departments that can provide assistance with things like rent, diapers and formula, or help find better jobs.
“We’re not here to help them in that one moment of need, but we’re also here to help them improve their lives,” Gideon said. “Our job is to fix cars, our goal is to help them fix their lives.”
George Snider contacted Higher Power Garage in July for his pickup truck brake repair. Her grandson has serious health issues and was hospitalized in Kansas City. Snider didn’t feel safe driving his van long distances to help his family, but helping with medical bills made repairs difficult.
Snider said the day he had an appointment at Higher Power, his grandson was admitted and he had to miss the appointment. Gideon contacted him to say that the staff were praying for his grandson and that they would fix his van at a more convenient time.
Higher Power Garage fixed Snider’s brakes, allowing him to help care for his grandson in Kansas City. It also allowed her to do things like take her granddaughter on trips for ice cream and the mall, a welcome little distraction during a stressful time. The garage has continued to stay in touch with Snider and prays for his grandson.
“They had no reason to bend over backwards for me,” Snider said. “When you think about it, what do I care? But for them, I mean a lot. To me, it’s more like a family feeling that you’re here to do service.
Higher Power Garage also offers a low cost vehicle program, where customers can receive a vehicle that has been donated to the garage for a nominal fee if they meet certain criteria and agree to program requirements. A low-cost vehicle from this program has helped bring single mother Jennifer Birran closer to her children.
Birran had a serious car accident a year ago and has been on disability ever since. She travels often to see her children, a daughter in St. Joseph and older children in Oklahoma. His 2000 Ford Expedition developed issues, only going 8 mpg, which made it difficult to see his children or get to doctor’s appointments after the crash.
Birran spoke to Higher Power Garage in July about getting his vehicle repaired. When she discovered that it was not profitable to repair her Expedition, she asked for a low-cost vehicle. She took the mechanics and budgeting course, accepted the requirements, paid a small fee, and was approved for a 2006 Chevy Uplander. She has now been able to spend time this summer with her children and not have to pay all minor repairs to his old vehicle.
“It really helped me to do the necessary things that I need to do as a mother, to be able to take care of my children in my situation,” Birran said. “I’m grateful this worked for me, and I encourage people to follow these steps for help. It’s not that difficult.
Higher Power Garage has helped many people such as Snider and Birran over the past two years. Gideon estimated that the shop repaired around 575 vehicles during this time. He recently started using the savings in shop labor costs to track the impact of the garage. Since the start of the year, the shop has saved $31,000 in labor costs, while total savings for all of last year were $35,000. Gideon said requests for repairs increased rapidly as word of the garage grew.
In May, the garage received a $50,000 grant from the Philanthropist Society of the Joplin Regional Community Foundation. The grant helped hire a manager to work with clients during the application process and follow up with any other resources. It also freed up staff to carry out more auto repairs, helping an additional eight to ten people a month. Higher Power has also used the money to purchase an alignment machine and an additional elevator to carry out a wider range of repairs, and it plans to expand the community hall to help increase class sizes to 30 people.
Additional help with the renovation and extension of services came from Schubert Mitchell Homes, three years of support from the WR Corley Memorial Trust Award, Uncommon Life Church and Journey Church.
The operation plans its annual Community Day fundraiser Saturday at the Higher Power location at 711 N. Schifferdecker Ave. in Joplin. The 1-5 p.m. event will include bouncy houses, snow cones, food trucks, a dip tank and demonstrations from the Joplin Fire Department. There will also be raffles for a vacation to Branson and for a ride in a Ferrari or McLaren.
“Whoever wins will have the ride of his life,” Gideon said.
Community Day is also an opportunity to connect customers, sponsors, community and partner organizations for a day of fun. Gideon sees the day as a way to celebrate the partnerships that have helped the garage succeed in its mission.
“One of the things God put on my heart when we opened this was to build community,” Gideon said, as he choked up a bit. “It wasn’t just about helping people, it was about helping other people get involved in people’s lives. It all becomes one big community that uplifts people who are struggling.