Mikes Rides for Lives in Silverdale is a new philanthropic organization that helps people get a vehicle who might not be able to afford new transportation on their own.
Mike Columbus, who works for Haselwood Auto Group in Bremerton, started the charity by donating $30 of every car he sold. His employer and a bank have already joined the effort.
Columbus saw the need during COVID, when reliable transportation was desperately needed, especially in a place like Kitsap County, according to walkscore.com.
That website uses various dimensions (pedestrian access to conveniences, mass transit, etc.) to score areas on how “walkable” they are. On the high end are cities like San Francisco (scores 89) and New York (88), where a car may not be necessary at all.
Although some areas in Kitsap do OK (Bremerton scores 51), there are vast areas of the county that score below 10, meaning the area is heavily “car-dependent.” It was against the backdrop of that transportation situation, and the upheaval created by COVID, that Columbus was inspired to create one of the county’s most innovative charities, Mike’s Rides for Lives.
Columbus is from Penn’s Grove, NJ, but spent many years in Delaware where he studied business, and worked in auto sales and healthcare. In 2017 he moved to Puget Sound to be near his wife’s family, and settled in Kitsap after taking a position with the Haselwood Auto Group.
Flash forward to 2020. Despite the general restrictions to in-person work, many workers were still deemed “essential,” meaning they needed reliable transportation to work. That required auto dealers to make reliable transportation available, and it was while providing that service that Columbus came to understand the important role a reliable car could play in a person’s life. He also saw a way to realize his lifelong desire to contribute to his community.
He decided to devote $30 from every vehicle he sold to a fund. When enough was saved, he would find a deserving recipient to help with obtaining a new and trustworthy vehicle. To create a viable, ongoing, philanthropic organization, he knew he would have to have a credible board, able to ensure that the organization was above reproach.
He did his homework, even regarding the name, which to Columbus communicated the truly life-changing nature of the service he intended to provide. In late 2021, Mike’s Rides for Lives donated a new vehicle to its first recipient, a single parent and victim of domestic abuse, who sought an education to get a job at Puget Sound Naval Shipyard.
The success of Columbus’ efforts at Mike’s Rides for Lives did not go unnoticed. Leaders at Haselwood Auto Group decided to match Columbus’ contributions, and 1st Security Bank in Silverdale became a major donor, too. In all, Columbus estimated that nearly $36,000 was raised.
Columbus has had such positive feedback from local civic leadership that he aspires to turn Mike’s Ride for Lives into one of Kitsap’s largest and most-important philanthropic organizations.