Sebastopol auto shop owner on a mission to give away 10 cars

By Camille Escovedo, Staff Writer, SoCoNews, July 16, 2021

Kate Jonasse, owner of K-Tech Automotive and Pauline’s Automotive, stands beside a Ford Escape Hybrid donated for this year’s upcoming Good Karma Car Giveaway aiming to give away 10 cars, on Wednesday, July 14, 2021 in Sebastopol.(Photo Camille Escovedo)

Kate Jonasse is putting pedal to the medal to give away 10 vehicles this August for the Good Karma Car Giveaway’s 10th anniversary. The giveaway seeks to honor deserving members of the Sebastopol community with a free car.

Her crew has been examining seven donated cars to recondition so they’re safe to drive, with partner shops in the wings to do the repairs K-Tech Automotive can’t, like body work. They’re holding out for three more vehicles to pull off the mission.

Jonasse, owner of K-Tech Automotive and Pauline’s Automotive in Sebastopol, said she will announce the winners on Aug. 25, at one of the last Peacetown concerts in The Barlow.

After calling off 2020’s giveaway under the pandemic, Jonasse wants a big comeback for the program and big-hearted chosen nominees in need of a car and a fresh start.

“This year, I was looking at the whole pandemic situation, people have been stressed, under pressure. There’s just been a lot of different types of suffering over the last year and a half,” she said.

Jonasse said she and her staff love the annual program, giving out one to three donated cars in past years. “So, I thought, you know what? Why don’t we go big this year and do 10?”

Recipients also get a smog test, payment of the initial registration cost and a year of free scheduled maintenance services by K-Tech, per its website’s car giveaway page. Winners do need to take on operational costs and liability insurance, however.

Jonasse is looking to expand the program and hopes to find partners to work with on ideas like giving away more vehicles, possibly more than once a year, and offering additional services to those in need down the road.

To do so, she created Compassionate Cars, an organization that recently secured nonprofit status. This way, donations can be tax-deductible, encouraging more contributions and potential to grow.

In recent times, she said she’s been on the phone a lot discussing the car giveaway program  to grow her collaborations and expand, speaking with West County Community Services, The Living Room, TLC Child & Family Services that received a car in the past to teach youth how to drive, and service clubs as well.

 Seeking community-minded nominees to pass the keys

Nominations for the Good Karma Car Giveaway will be accepted in writing postmarked or time stamped by July 31. Recipients must be at least 18 years old and nominators cannot submit an application for themselves, according to K-Tech’s website.

They also need a valid driver’s license, Jonasse said. Nominees won’t qualify if they already have a car, even if it’s broken down, Jonasse said, but she’s thinking about providing such repairs as a potential expansion of the program in the future.

Jonasse seeks generous, active community members to take the wheel as part of the criteria. “I look for how the car is going to do the greatest good,” she said, learning the stories of those nominated to determine deserving winners with clear need.

“‘Deserving’ is loose criteria, it’s very loose. That just means we want to see how it’s going to benefit the individual and the community.” Community service is not required, but considered alongside how they show up in the community, if they’re known for giving, and the impact receiving a car would have, she said.

“I also consider, are they going to be able to pay to maintain it after a year?” Jonasse said, reflecting on how someone who cannot afford a car might have difficulty affording its maintenance once K-Tech’s free services end. “Because the point is, I want the gift to stick.”

A year is ample time to get a better job, move, or “level up their life” in some way, she said. “So, the idea is to kind of give people a fresh start in life.”

Sending in Nominations

The best way to put someone’s name in the hat is go through the website here and explain why that nominee deserves the donation and how it would help them be active in the community, Jonasse said.

People can also submit nominations by mail under “K-Tech Automotive Car Giveaway” to 198 South High Street, Sebastopol, CA 95472, but not by phone, per the website.

Those who need to can email nominations to, but Jonasse greatly recommended people instead go use the website form to ensure it doesn’t get lost.

The program usually takes in 50 to 100 nominations a year and Jonasse makes the final call after she and her employees read through them all and pull out the ones they want to see receive the cars.

Jonasse chooses who gets what car based on the nominee’s needs, such as how many in a family would need to fit in a vehicle.

This year, she said the donated cars so far include a 2004 Ford Explorer, a 2001 Mazda Protege, a 2002 Ford Focus, a 2005 Prius, a 2006 Ford Escape Hybrid, a 2008 Honda Civic and most recently a 2004 Prius.

 A mechanic’s transformation

It was all about the cars when Jonasse first started out as a “one-person operation” working front and back out of the Ford dealership on Highway 12, where she began her K-Tech Automotive business in 2009.

“And on the tech side, you don’t really deal with people, you deal with the car. And when I got into business, I had to learn and understand a lot more about people, so it kind of expanded my horizons,” she said.

Jonasse said she had fears and beliefs to overcome from a difficult childhood that did not make her a “people-person” exactly, but had led her to seek personal transformation. Stepping out in business opened up a whole new world to understand.

“And so I started looking for, well, what does it mean? How do you be good at interacting with people, or how do you be a good person, or what does it mean to live in the world with people?” she said.

Sharing generosity, kindness and good will felt like the way to do it, she said. The support she received from the community when she started K-Tech inspired her to give back and she had the gift of cars to give.

Over time, Jonasse hired technicians and someone to take the front office, later setting up shop on High Street in 2012, where K-Tech Automotive has taken in cars ever since. Around five years ago, Jonasse took on Paul’s Automotive and renamed it Pauline’s Automotive, she said.

Jonasse started giving away free vehicles every year to locals in need of wheels back in 2011, after buying a Honda off a customer who didn’t want to replace a small part.

She figured someone else could use it and thus began the giveaway, she said. People just kept donating vehicles they wanted to get off their hands and go to a good cause.

“But since then, I’ve continued working on building a life where I’m taking responsibility for my stuff, but I can also put myself down, I can also put myself aside and live for the greater good. And by doing that I experience a type of peace, things tend to work out better,” she said.

For Jonasse, it’s a good way to live.

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