For six months Monique Brito only got to see her kids on the weekends.
“I was incomplete,” she said, recalling those painful months, when her car broke down and she needed to send her kids to live with their grandfather so they could get to school and she could take a bus to work.
She was stuck — literally — last year when the auto repair shops kept telling her it was going to cost more than $8,000 to replace the engine of her Hyundai. “I took it to a few places, and they were just telling me outrageous numbers that I couldn’t afford,” she said.
Without a functioning car, the 32-year-old single mom could no longer make it from her home in Morgan Hill to drop off her son Elias, 10, and her daughter Evangelina, 13, at their schools in East San Jose, and then get back to South San Jose in time for her job in a dental office. So she asked her dad if his grandchildren could live with him on the weekdays, much closer to their schools.
It was the right thing for the kids, but “it was tough,” Brito remembers. “It made me feel like everything that I worked so hard for was for nothing.”
She started saving up for a new car, but then a friend suggested she reach out to Maintenance for Moms — a San Jose-based nonprofit that helps single moms with car repairs.
She applied, and after the nonprofit determined Brito’s car was not worth the expensive repair, she received the pink slip to a gently used 2016 Hyundai Elantra GT, courtesy of the local nonprofit.
It wasn’t just a car. It was a gift that reunited her little family.
The nonprofit was created and originally funded in 2019 by Ashot Iskandarian, founder of ShopMonkey, a tech company that provides software for auto mechanic shops, and his wife Annie Iskandarian. In just over four years, the organization has helped 318 moms, paying for over 330 repairs, and gifting 44 used and donated cars.
Maintenance for Moms accepts applications from local single moms in Santa Clara County through its website, then invites those who meet the criteria, like Brito, for interviews at their offices in West San Jose.
“My vision was to have more of a living-room setting,” says Kathryn Grazian, the director of Maintenance for Moms, who sits on a cute couch, wearing an aubergine T-shirt with the organization’s logo, and photos of previous beneficiaries smiling with their new cars on the walls around her.
She’s done over 200 interviews now. “We sit and we hear them,” Grazian said. And then they determine if the moms’ cars are repairable or not.
She has found that one of the most helpful services they can provide is access to a trusted mechanic. “That’s something we can provide for them that they can have and take with them.”
“I think we’ve all been very inconvenienced at some point in our life by our vehicles,” said Grazian, whose own car was in the shop at the end of October. “It’s very relatable… when I get out to my car and it doesn’t start… I have no idea what is going on,” she said.
Maintenance for Moms has established relationships with several reliable mechanics in the area and pays for the repairs. The organization also registers the cars with the DMV, and provides moms referrals to other wraparound services and opportunities.
With donations to Wish Book, the organization plans to help another 24 moms like Brito get back on the road safely.
“I think that’s where that intimacy is really vital,” Grazian said, “to not only repair their car, but also just build a relationship… so there’s a trusted space where they can ask for help. That is really hard for a lot of moms.”
Brito asked for help, and was blown away by the response. “It’s been the biggest help that I’ve ever experienced in my life,” she said. “It has really put an ease on my life financially, physically, and emotionally.”
Her daughter Evangelina agrees. “When I was at my grandpa’s… I was just usually in my room,” like a typical teenager, “now I’m still in my room… but I know that I’m with my mom,” she said with a smile.
Last year they were living with their grandpa when they started the new school year, but this year Brito is back to doing daily drop offs and pickups.
“I feel complete,” Brito said.
THE WISH BOOK SERIES
Wish Book is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization operated by The Mercury News. Since 1983, Wish Book has been producing series of stories during the holiday season that highlight the wishes of those in need and invite readers to help fulfill them.
Donations will help Maintenance for Moms provide a working car for 24 low-income single mothers and their families in Santa Clara County. Goal: $50,000
HOW TO GIVE
Donate at wishbook.mercurynews.com/donate or mail in this form.
Read other Wish Book stories, view photos and video at wishbook.mercurynews.com.