Car ministry transforms lives — one auto at a time

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Volunteers for the Catholic Charities Car Ministry say that donated cars — with a little help from the Holy Spirit — change lives.     

Ramin Malakooti, 55, is one such life. Diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in 2009 and using a wheelchair since 2012, he became increasingly confined to the four walls of his bedroom with his daily routine punctuated by doctors’ appointments — if he could make it to them.

“This van has changed my life. It doesn’t make sense how a van can change my life, but it has." Ramin Malakooti

“Just getting into the car took 20 minutes and I couldn’t do it myself; my wife had to do it,” Malakooti said. “She was pulling me up, turning me around, putting me in the car and getting my legs in — and she already has back problems.”

On some days, he would cancel appointments rather than put his wife through the aggravation of transferring him. 

“I was having nightmares,” Malakooti said. “I would cancel doctors’ appointments just because of that.” 

He enlisted family members to be on the lookout for a handicap-accessible van. In early February 2018, his niece, Sophia Malakooti, received a call that “changed everything.”     

“You’re not going to believe it, but we have a van for you,” said Nancy Dowgiello, a Catholic Charities Car Ministry volunteer in the newly opened satellite office at St. John the Apostle Church in Leesburg.

The 2003 Dodge Caravan, with a specially designed wheelchair ramp, was exactly what the Malakooti family was praying for.

“Nancy was a godsend,” Sophia Malakooti said. “We live in a society where every organization always wants something in return, and this was something 100 percent given.”

Dowgiello credits the Holy Spirit for perfectly matching donated vehicles to people in need.

“That’s how the Holy Spirit works,” Dowgiello said, acknowledging the generosity of donors as well.

“I think people are moved by that,” she said. “They know that it changes a life, it changes a family. Especially out here in Loudoun County where we do not have the public transportation like you find in Arlington and Fairfax counties.”

Before the office opened at St. John the Apostle, donors from throughout the diocese drove to the Arlington office. 

“For decades, really, there was only one place where you could take the vehicles,” Dowgiello said. “But now it is much more convenient for people in Loudoun County: They don’t have to fight the traffic.”

And Dowgiello said that the process is quick: just 10 to 15 minutes. Even vehicles that do not run can be donated.

“If the car won’t pass inspection, that’s OK,” Dowgiello said. “It will be sold at auction and the person gets a tax write-off.”

For the Malakooti family, however, they struggle to find the words to express their gratitude for their van.

“This van has changed my life.” Malakooti said. “It doesn’t make sense how a van can change my life, but it has.”

His wife, Denise Malakooti, praises the ease with which she can move her husband. She even named the van after her favorite saint: St. Augustine.

“When my husband gets healed, I’m going to re-donate the car,” Denise Malakooti said. “I’m going to bring it right back to the Catholic (Charities) Car Ministry.”

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018