Auto shop

Women-run auto shop opens in Neenah, helps victims of domestic violence


NEENAH – A “garage for good” is what the women of JumpStart Auto refer to their newly opened auto repair shop in Neenah.

JumpStart Auto Repair offers the same repair services and competitive pricing as any other local repair shop, but what sets them apart is how they use their profits.

Jointly owned by the nonprofit programs Harbor House Domestic Abuse and Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services, the women-run auto shop uses its funds to provide free, low-cost auto repairs to victims of domestic violence.

The idea for the store, located at 896 S. Commercial St., was sparked by discussions about one of the barriers between victims of domestic violence and their freedom – lack of transportation.

“(Transportation) was key for them to be able to find housing, get to daycare, work, school, all of it,” said Beth Schnorr, general manager of Harbor House. “For victims of domestic violence, it was a real challenge because it wasn’t always safe for them to take public transport if their abuser was on the move.”

“We found that a lot of them who had vehicles were in poor condition and they didn’t always have the funds to get them repaired,” Schnorr said. “And that was really a key part of their economic independence.”

The automotive shop began in 2017 as a pilot project launched from the automotive division of Fox Valley Technical College. Open two days a week, the store has had success with customer loyalty and satisfaction, prompting those involved to start looking for their own garage.

Jenny Krikava, Head of Development and Marketing for Harbor House, came up with the idea for a female owned and operated facility and targeted specifically at the female clientele and their experience.

“We talk a lot about if you can see it, you can be it,” Krikava said. “Showing other women that this is a possible career path, if you’re interested, nothing should stand in your way.

“Throughout the process, we were able to speak with a handful of women working in the industry, and we have the opportunity to improve the culture within this auto repair work experience to make it more positive and more positive for women.

Krikava acknowledged that it was difficult to find women who work in the field of auto repair. A nearly year-long search for a general manager finally led them to Katie VanderWielen.

VanderWielen had worked in the automotive industry for 23 years, holding various positions such as repair, management and customer service.

“The ladies from Harbor House and Christine Ann planned a roundtable and they were looking for women who had a long history in the automotive industry,” VanderWielen said. “They kind of told us what they were doing and what they were thinking of trying and I thought they were crazy and then I met them a couple of times and decided they were looking for someone as a manager I wanted to try and see if I can make it work or not.”

Having worked in dealerships for most of his career, VanderWielen said the atmosphere at JumpStart Auto is more intimate and relaxed.

“We want women to know that it’s okay to come here and ask these ‘dumb questions,'” VanderWielen said. “You don’t understand how your vehicle works; we’re here to help you understand and explain to them.”

VanderWielen said Neenah’s response so far has been positive and she hopes the business can grow.

“The more we grow, the better able we will be to help victims of domestic violence at Christine Ann and Harbor House,” VanderWielen said. “There are so many women who don’t realize how much help there is.”

The JumpStart Auto building was previously owned by Randy’s Auto Service, where Dan Gruper worked for 29 years. He remained working with JumpStart Auto as a lead technician.

“I’ve been in this industry for a long time and these girls try to do something positive for the girls that probably used to being taken to other stores and a lot of times people tell you that you have to do certain things that don’t have it doesn’t have to be,” Gruper said.

“It’s nice to have a place where people can bring their car and trust someone, and we show them what’s wrong and why and explain it to them.”

Gruper said JumpStart Auto is working to change the stereotype that the auto industry is for men only.

“In 1987-89 when I went to Fox Valley Tech, we had one girl in our class, in mechanics, otherwise it was like 30 guys in the same room,” Gruper said. “It’s just one of those things, it’s always been a male-dominated industry. (JumpStart Auto) is trying to change the stereotype.”

Jenna Bundy, a mechanic at JumpStart Auto, said it took her a while to convince herself to get into such a male-dominated field, but she found people encouraged her career path.

“All of my challenges were before entering the education system,” Bundy said. “Going to garages, doing work, talking like I know nothing. Getting into the education system, I had no problem. I think they were impressed that I wanted to do this type of work. “

JumpStart Auto is a great way to get that message across, Bundy said.

“We would like to expand this location to provide opportunities for other women involved in other fields as well.”

In their first year, JumpStart Auto provided free or low-cost auto services to 28 Harbor House and Christine Ann customers, helping them get back on the road safely. Of these, 82% kept their jobs or enrolled in school.

About JumpStart Auto

What: A newly opened car repair shop run by women, whose profits benefit victims of domestic violence

The possession: Harbor House Domestic Abuse Programs, Appleton, and Christine Ann Domestic Abuse Services, Oshkosh, jointly own the business.

Or: 896 S. Commercial St., Neenah

Hours: 7:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays (closed at 4 p.m. Friday)

Information: 920-572-4327