Vehicles for Change Team Members

Martin Schwartz – President

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Martin started Vehicles for Change (VFC) in April 1999 with $30,000 in personal funds invested by senior management of Precision CertiPro Warehouse, an auto parts distributor. Martin has directed an expansion that included Maryland, most of Virginia and Detroit, Michigan. 

VFC was selected as a “best practice” organization in a national study completed by the “National Economic Development and Law Center” and generally recognized as one of the premiere low-income car ownership programs in the country.

In 2005 Martin started Freedom Wheels, a retail used-car business that is a subsidiary of VFC. He was selected as the University of Baltimore 2007 Social Entrepreneur of the Year and the Baltimore Visitors and Convention Bureaus “Sales Person of the Year” award. In 2011, Martin was recognized as an “Influential Marylander” by the Daily Record and Vehicles for Change received the MassMutual Citizenship Award for its private-public partnership developed with Precision Tune Auto Care. Martin co-authored a book on Social Enterprise titled Effective Social Enterprise: Practical Advice and Best Practices from Leaders in the Field and serves on the Baltimore Workforce Investment Board and the local Board of the Social Enterprise Alliance.

Nikki Zaahir - Executive Director

Nikki Zaahir joined Vehicles for Change as Director of the Full Circle Auto Repair & Training Center and Reentry Automotive Internship Opportunities in 2015 went on to be named National Director of Workforce Development & Training. Ms. Zaahir now serves as Executive Director for Vehicles for Change, where she oversees the daily operations of the organization. Previously, Nikki worked as a Quality Management Officer for the National Security Agency and a Corporate Representative Department Manager at America Works. In her role at America Works, she began working with ex-offenders as well as welfare-to-work clientele to facilitate their transferable life skills and assist them in maintaining employment. Nikki has had a passion for the prison reentry industry and has worked faithfully to further the opportunities for ex-offenders for almost 10 years.

Melissa McKenna - Assistant Director, VA State Coordinator

Melissa McKenna has managed all operations related to VFC's Richmond, VA location for the past 10 years. She brings a wide range of experience to VFC, having managed and owned numerous small businesses over the last 30 years (including wood and gas stove stores, a bicycle store and a screen printing machine manufacturer). Melissa is also a skilled auto mechanic and has rebuilt engines, replaced transmissions and made repairs on a wide variety of vehicles, including her very own school bus. She is a licensed VA car dealer.

Phaedra Wainaina - VFC Detroit Executive Director 

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Phaedra Wainaina, a proud Detroit native has exhibited a longstanding commitment to the city and its residents. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan Ann Arbor and Wayne State University Law School. She is currently pursuing a Masters in Business Administration with a concentration in finance, accounting and taxation at Wayne State University. Phaedra has been afforded the opportunity to pursue a variety of employment opportunities in the community. In 2014 Phaedra pioneered the Pontiac School District (PSD) College Advising Department where she negotiated contracts and funding agreements on behalf of PSD College Programming and increased PSD’s scholarship dollars by 400%. Following her position as a College Advisor, Phaedra returned to Pontiac School District to develop their Dual Enrollment program, providing incentive plans to assist students with academic and career plan creation. In addition to her professional pursuits, Phaedra remains active in her community and serves on the Institute and Alumni Committees for the New Leaders Council Detroit Chapter. Phaedra is also an active member of the Renaissance High School and Cranbrook Horizon Upward Bound Alumni Association.

Chris Hendrickson - Chief Financial Officer

Chris graduated from Albright College, Reading Pennsylvania with a BS in Mathematics and then from Rutgers University, Newark, New Jersey with an MBA in Accounting. He started his career as a Certified Public Accountant with KPMG. Chris also has senior international executive experienced in consumer products (PepsiCo) and payments industry experience with FDC. He has worked in Brussels, Belgium and Tokyo, Japan.  Chris has been active as a Church Council member and has previously served on the Boards of Lutheran Social Services of New England; The International School of Brussels; The EDP Auditors Association of New York; and was a Trustee and Chair of the Finance Committee of the Barrie School in Silver Springs, Maryland.

Simone Baptiste - Director of Communications

A New York native, Baptiste earned her BA in African Studies and business from Queens College, City University of New York. Post-graduation, she moved to Baltimore where she obtained her MBA in Business Marketing from the Earl G. Graves School of Business from Morgan State University. Her marketing and communications skillset lead to her employment at various Baltimore news outlets including WEAA-FM, WBAL-TV and ABC2. Baptiste joined the Vehicles for Change team in 2015 as the organization’s Donations Coordinator. In this role, she was responsible for managing the life cycle of car donations including processing and coordinating donations locally and nationally. In August 2019, Baptiste assumed the role of Director of Communications, where she handles internal and external messaging for Vehicles for Change Halethorpe, Waverly, and Detroit.

Ayanna Dacosta - Director of Development

A Connecticut native, Dacosta earned her BA in Political Science with a concentration in Human Rights from the University of Connecticut. Dacosta brings many years of experience in nonprofit fundraising and programming to the Vehicles for Change team, having served as a resource development consultant for the Community Action Agency of Western Connecticut, program consultant for GoLiveGirl, and a contract staffer for the Bethlehem University Foundation as well as the nonprofit, Girls With Impact. Ms. Dacosta is eager to utilize her extensive fundraising experience to further the Vehicles for Change mission. 

Meet Our Mechanics

Wayne T. Farrar - Master Automobile Technician & Maryland State Certified Inspector 

- Areas of Demonstrated Achievement 

  • Engine Repair
  • Manual Drive Train and Axles
  • Suspension and Steering 
  • Brakes
  • Electrical and Electronic Systems
  • Heating and Air Conditioning 
  • Engine Performance
  • Authorized to: conduct inspections, sign Certificates of Inspection, and certify Safety Equipment Repair Orders

Sean Howard - Automotive Service Excellence (ASE) Certified Automobile Technician

-Areas of Demonstrated Achievement

  • Automobile Maintenance and Light Repair