Shalie Wanna’s bus rides to take her son to day care used to last one hour – and sometimes, they included one meltdown from her toddler, Jack.

Wanna, a single mom, deli employee and almost-graduate of the University of Montana, has ridden the bus, walked and biked ever since she moved to Missoula in 2010. Last week, though, the YWCA Missoula presented Wanna with her own set of motor-powered wheels, a PT Cruiser from one of its donors.

“It’s made things so much easier for me (than) lugging him around on the buses,” Wanna said of her son, almost 1.

Now, the trip to day care takes just 15 minutes, and instead of juggling buses and rides from home to day care to work to school and back again, Wanna can spend more time at home doing schoolwork and reading for her anthropology classes. At home in the evening, Jack gets dinner, a bath and some “Baby Einstein” time with products that engage little ones.

“We’re able to just be home and not have to spend all that time on the bus,” Wanna said.

The North Dakota woman connected with the YWCA last year when she left an abusive relationship. When the car became available, she turned in an application for it, and she fit the bill of someone who needed it – and should be given a car. For one thing, she can afford the insurance and repairs.

“It’s like a little mommy car,” Wanna said.

YWCA Missoula’s Patty Murphy said the lack of a car can stop someone from leaving an abuser, or it can be the reason someone returns. In the past, donors gave more cars to the YWCA, but donations of working cars have shrunk the last few years. YWCA staff figure it has to do with the economy and also a tax benefit that changed.

The YWCA’s Karrie McDonald said many people want to give away cars that require a lot of maintenance, but a barrier comes up.

“We can’t afford to fix them. So if somebody says, ‘I have this 1987 Oldsmobile with bald tires and bad brakes,’ we obviously aren’t going to take it,” McDonald said.

In at least the last three years, the YWCA has gotten just two working cars, she said, both in recent months.

***

One came from Shantelle Gaynor. Gaynor’s family recently had added another little baby, and in December her father gave the family a new car for Christmas.

“The PT Cruiser is a little tight, and he has the money to do it, and he generously gave us a little bit bigger car,” Gaynor said. “So my personal philosophy is if someone is going to be that generous with me, it’s the least I can do to be that generous with somebody else.”

Gaynor, who is a grants administrator in the Office of Planning and Grants, works with the Crime Victim Advocates program. She wants to help prevent violence and calls on people to hold abusers accountable. A poster isn’t going to change an abuser’s behavior, she said, but a conversation with a friend can help.

“Domestic violence is personally a very important issue for me,” Gaynor said. “I really feel like at the heart of a lot of the issues our community faces, when there’s violence in the family, it touches everything.”

Children don’t do as well in school, she said. Parents don’t do as well at work. Their health deteriorates. In her day job, Gaynor works to address those issues, but she also believes it’s incumbent on the community to reach out and help, too. So as a community member, she did.

The car she donated is a little old and has some quirks, so she took it to a mechanic who is the husband of a YWCA board member.

“After he said it would be fine to donate, I scrubbed it because it’s seen many children and dogs,” she said.

Then, she filled it up with gas and passed it onto the YWCA.

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Wanna, who will graduate in May with a degree in anthropology, said the first place she drove was school. Eventually, she’ll go on a drive that’s just for fun, maybe when she visits family this spring in North Dakota.

“I haven’t been able to take a little drive to the mountains. I’d love to, though,” she said.

The first time Jack rode with her, he seemed to approve of the white hatchback. Wanna said the entire trip, he chanted along: “Ride, ride, ride. Ride, ride, ride.”

On Wednesday, Wanna had owned the car for just one week, and the back already was full of bags stuffed with goods to be taken to the YWCA.

“I’ve got a bunch of baby clothes I want to donate to them because I feel like it’s important to give back to them since they’ve given me so much,” Wanna said.

Reporter Keila Szpaller can be reached at @KeilaSzpaller, 523-5262, keila.szpaller@missoulian.com or on MissoulaRedTape.com.

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