Group Cruises for Charity

Dana Pritchard, president of The Woodlands Car Club, also co-owns Woodlands Performance & Suspension with Sean Rizk. The couple shares a passion for cars and for helping out local charities. Photo: Lindsay Peyton / HC

THE WOODLANDS, Texas - Tuesday, June 12 (Houston Chronicle). The first Sunday of each month, the main drag of the Market Street shopping center is transformed into a showroom for hot rods, sports cars and classic rides.

The Woodlands Car Club gathers at 9 a.m. for a morning dedicated to showing off unique vehicles. A total of 44 parking spaces are reserved for members, but the group also encourages area enthusiasts to join. All types of cars and all ages of guests are invited.

Besides admiring sleek lines and souped-up engines, members are raising funds for nonprofit groups. The club's monthly Cars & Coffee for a Cause collects coins for Market Street's "Change for Charities" program.

The causes change each year, but the car club's dedication remains steady. At the end of the day, members believe trophies are nothing compared to helping out the community.

President Dana Pritchard said the club's commitment to fundraising for worthy causes sets it apart. "There's no club like this," she said. "The main goal is for us to use our cars to give back."

Pritchard was first invited to join the car club by her father Bruce Carter, a car enthusiast, in 2001. She attended her first meeting with Sean Rizk. They both became dedicated members, and Pritchard soon made her way into the driver's seat of The Woodlands Car Club.

"My responsibilities grew as my passion grew," she said. "I wanted to drive the club in a charity way. I had to step up, because I knew there was more we could do."

Along the way, Pritchard and Rizk started their own business, Woodlands Performance & Suspension, a one-stop automotive shop for customization and modifications.

Rizk worked in the automotive industry for 10 years before deciding to venture out on his own. He also loved cars since childhood. "My dad took me to Indy 500 races, and I just grew up around race cars," he said. At work, Rizk saw how people related to their cars. "It's like building a custom home - you tailor it to who you are. The same goes for cars," he said. "It's an expression of style."

"People often identify themselves with what they drive," he added. "For older cars, it's nostalgia. People get into cars at a young age, and they want to have the car they had when they were 16," he said. For the newer cars, Rizk said it is more about adrenaline. "It's about horsepower and aesthetics," he said. "It starts with the engine power and evolves into the sound of the car."

In their new business, they saw first-hand how much people loved their vehicles and how customers gathered around cars. Pritchard, with a background in marketing, applied her observations to the car club.

"We started our business with nothing, and now we have a great customer base," she said. "As our partnership and our business grew, we were in a take charge position. I thought we had to do the right thing."

Her goal was to turn the car club around and focus on how to use the marketability of a car show to raise money for charities. Since 2001, the group has raised more than $70,000 for local nonprofit organizations. The club also hosts an annual Evening Fall Car Show. Each November, on a Saturday night, members invite the community to check out the cars, listen to live music and raise funds for the Woodforest Charitable Foundation.

Pritchard said the event provides residents in The Woodlands an option for a night-out to raise money that will not break the bank. "It brings people who can't write a $500 check for a black tie affair, who can't afford to play in a golf tournament or who don't have the time to train for a Fun Run," she said. "What about the people who work day in and out to provide for their families? They still want to give. This is their chance."

Pritchard said the Car Club is trying to do as much possible with limited resources financially and with volunteers. She is still sometimes shocked that a club with 50 members has raised so much. I just cry when I count the money," she said. "People are so generous. I wonder if they understand the magnitude of what they're doing." Pritchard said every little bit helps.

"In the big scheme of things, we're really small," she said. "We're small voices but we want to put a spotlight on what we can do to contribute to our community."