wMN Breaking Barriers: Cathy Heying
Giving the Lift They Need
Written by: Abby Hermes // Camera: Rodel Querubin // Designer: Kelly McMasters
The jump from pastoral staff to auto mechanic may seem unexpected, but not when you know Cathy Heying’s past. As director of social justice at St. Stephens, Heying saw firsthand a need to help people struggling to make ends meet. One of the biggest pain points for people struggling is a broken down car that doesn’t allow them to get to the job they desperately need to be at in order to stay afloat. Heying realized something needed to be done.
When did you get the idea to open a shop?
In 2006, then I got my Autotech Associate’s degree from Dunwoody in 2008. I thought it could even be me fixing cars in my driveway, changing the world one car at a time. After talking to people, board of directors, and gaining 501c3 status….I couldn’t have imagined this.
How has the shop changed since you opened in terms of physical space or the demand?
We just celebrated five years! And when we opened in 2013 we used to only be open one day a week—now we’re open Tuesday through Saturday and appointments are booked three months out!
When the shop first opened, it was almost a year of one technician doing everything himself before Heying came on full-time—previously she had been coming after her other job. The shop is now at five bays, five days a week and the appointments haven’t slowed down.
They currently average just over 100 appointments, which includes fixing cars, providing estimates, and the part of the job even harder than the physical tasks; informing someone that their car isn’t worth saving. For many that come through the shop, it isn’t just a car.
“There’s an internal conflict. Some people live in their car and when you make that diagnosis you feel like you’re evicting them. Some are upset and say ‘I thought you cared about poor people.’ But you can only do so much. They want you to fix it, but it’s like rearranging deck chairs on the Titanic.”
There’s also the other part of the job that might weigh some women down, but not Heying—the sexism she faces nearly every day.
What has the sexism you face been like, being a female in a heavily male-dominated industry?
Men will want something reaffirmed from a man in the shop. They’ll say, “I wanna talk to a tech!” Or a guy was buying his niece a car and he said to me, “I thought a mechanic was joining us. ” You get to say, “Yep that’s me.”
The mission of the shop isn’t just to fix and repair or diagnose, but also help others be self-sufficient. Along with their services, the Lift Garage also offers basic car care classes every second Saturday of the month.
They’re truly an organization that wants to make an impact wherever help is needed. In fact, the Lift Garage even provides advice on how to start your own shop—covering topics such as how to become a 501c3 organization, questions to ask, and considerations that need to be made in terms of staff, space, equipment, and permits.
At the shop’s five-year mark, they have served over 1,045 customers, completed 2,200 repairs and have saved Minnesotans of limited means $825,000 on repairs.
The wMN Breaking Barriers photo series stemmed from a desire to showcase women and companies who are breaking barriers, making a difference, and paving the way for women to come. Know of a female-identifying woman (or women) breaking barriers in their industry? We’d love to chat. Reach out to with a little background information and you just might see them featured in an upcoming issue! Email us at: firstname.lastname@example.org