A local dealership gifted a lightly used car to the Keene Serenity Center Monday to help fill its need for reliable transportation for people in recovery.

The 2019 Dodge Journey with 14,000 miles on it was donated by Keene Chrysler Dodge Jeep Ram, and is the first vehicle the center has owned.

The center, opened in 2013, is a local recovery community that offers treatment referrals, recovery coaches and support groups. The nonprofit organization at 34 Mechanic St. serves about 150 people annually, according to Executive Director Jocelyn Goldblatt.

Until now, the center was relying on employees’ own vehicles or taxi services to get people to and from treatment for substance use disorders, or had to deny people rides.

“It was sketchy at best,” said Alison Woods Baker of Marlborough, chairwoman of the Serenity Center’s board of directors. “You’re waiting constantly for who can take someone where. So, when someone is ready for recovery, you don’t want to delay that process ... that can be all the difference it takes for somebody to say, ‘OK, I’m not staying.’ “

With these obstacles in mind, Woods Baker and one of the center’s recovery coaches, Shawn Maguire of Keene, spoke with the dealership’s owner, Mike Korpi, about needing a dependable car.

Korpi agreed, and said the center’s mission “hits home” for him. He’s had family members struggle with substance use disorders, and said donating the vehicle was his way of helping those affected by the epidemic.

“If this gets a person to a meeting that day or a ride to work or something that will help them in their recovery, that’s what this is for,” he said.

As Serenity Center employees and volunteers gathered in the dealership’s parking lot Monday morning to pick up the car, many expressed disbelief. A few murmured that they were expecting a car with more years or miles on it, not one that’s practically new.

Goldblatt said having the vehicle will be “huge” for the center, noting it’s had to turn away about six people per week requesting rides.

Aside from driving people to recovery facilities, the vehicle can be used for anything “center-related,” Woods Baker said, such as syringe-exchange services or picking up food that’s been donated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

So far, Woods Baker and Goldblatt are the only two certified drivers for the vehicle, with a few more people in the certification process. Drivers must have clean driving records and car insurance, Woods Baker explained, and are required to pass a driver’s safety course.

The car is worth about $24,000 with its clocked mileage, according to Korpi, who said this is the “first time in a while” the dealership has donated a vehicle.

He added that the dealership will also help the center with the car’s continued maintenance.

“It didn’t take much for me to get convinced [to donate],” Korpi said. “I know the time and efforts they spend to try and help people, so this was my way to give back. If we can help one person, it means a lot.”

Olivia Belanger can be reached at 352-1234, extension 1439, or obelanger@keenesentinel.com. Follow her on Twitter @OBelangerKS.