In this era of urban and suburban sprawl a primary factor of financial security is the ability to enjoy mobility. In many cases that is determined by some form of vehicle.
For those living on very limited incomes, an automotive breakdown can spell disaster. With no way to get to work or even to public transportation, if that is available, the revenue flow ceases and the rest is a forgone conclusion.
That scenario has been averted for many Alexandria Redevelopment and Housing Authority residents through the largess of Wiygul Automotive Clinic. Beginning in 2004 they made ARHA a deal it could not refuse.
"We asked ARHA what were some of the financial choke points for their residents. They told us one was to be able to have reliable transportation," said Oscar H. Wiygul, Jr., who heads up the company's two Alexandria locations at 310 S. Pickett St. and 6001 Lane Dr.
"We decided to provide $5,000 worth of repairs per year to their residents over the next 10 years. The only thing we asked of ARHA was that they set up procedures to make sure that when someone comes in they are a legitimate ARHA resident," he said.
"It has been a real benefit for many of our residents and a great help to us," said William Dearman, executive director, ARHA. "They have actually done much more than they agreed to in the beginning."
WIYGUL'S OFFER grew out of plans to create three off-site public housing venues as a result of the demolition and revitalization of Samuel Madden Homes Downtown. Known for years as "The Berg" it is now being transformed into Chatham Square, incorporating both public and market value housing.
As part of that process, 52 former Berg residents will be relocated to three off-site locations, two of which will be on S. Whiting and Reynolds streets. Both are in close proximity to the two Wiygul locations.
"We made the decision to be good neighbors and help these people in their desire to achieve financial independence. Our goal is to embrace these new citizens of the West End," Wiygul said.
"We also offered to train interested residents in auto repair. It takes about six to eight years to develop a really good auto technician. And the payment and benefits are excellent," he said.
"Our theory is that if ARHA is successful in getting these residents to be self-sufficient, we will all benefit."
Oscar Wiygul Sr. founded the business in 1976. A family-owned and operated enterprise it also incorporates the time and talents of his wife Sue Wiygul and her other son Bill. "This whole operation started with mother and dad. Now there's myself, my brother Bill and his son Zack," Wiygul said.
Zack Wiygul is also a junior at George Mason University studying accounting, according to Oscar Wiygul Jr. "We do everything from a simple oil change to major mechanical repairs. The only thing we don't do is body work," he said.
Presently Wiygul Auto Clinics employ approximately 45 people, most of whom are ASE-approved technicians, fairly evenly split between the firm's two AAA-approved locations. They also own a NAPA auto parts distributor, located in the South Picket Street strip mall, located at the intersection with Van Dorn Street, that caters to others in the auto repair business.
OSCAR WIYGUL has served on the Alexandria Hospital Board, prior to its being taken over by Inova Health System, the T.C. Williams Scholarship Board, as well as devoting time, energy and financial support to other community philanthropic endeavors. "If we can contribute to changing people's lives, that's what we do," Wiygul said.
That has been the case for several ARHA residents that have availed themselves of the free automotive service. "I live in Section 8 housing. I went there and they did a great job for me," said Larry White.
"I've have service done there twice. It was all free. But, even if I had to pay I'd still go them. They were so good," he said.
That was buttressed by Maria Murphy, another Section 8 housing resident. "They fixed my car and did a very good job. It runs perfectly," she said.
"This ARHA effort is the most aggressive we've ever been. And there is nothing political about this. It's about helping people. ARHA calls the shots. They direct the people to us," Wiygul said.
"We met with [Mayor] Bill Euille and talked to him about the proposal. We asked him what was the best way to do this and he sent us to Bill Dearman, who was very enthusiastic about the idea," he said.
Over the past year Wiygul Auto Clinics have helped approximately 15 ARHA residents. In addition to proving they are ARHA-approved, each pro bono customer must also show proof of ownership of the vehicle. ARHA provides all screening and references.
"This effort is intended to give ARHA residents a hand up. In the long run, we will probably invest double what we envisioned," Wiygul said.