Jonathan Tonkowich is not your typical executive director of a nationwide organization.

A few months ago he was a senior at Thomas Aquinas College in Santa Paula, Calif., daydreaming about what life would be like after his May 2006 graduation.

That began to change in January, when he watched as many of his classmates attended the West Coast Walk for Life in San Francisco. Unable to accompany them due to other obligations, Jonathan began thinking of ways he might make a difference in the pro-life movement.

“At Thomas Aquinas College I discussed and analyzed the Great Books and, as a result, learned strong problem-solving skills,” says Tonkowich. “These skills have given me the courage and drive to tackle the large problems in our culture — and abortion is one of the biggest.”

After a little brainstorming and a lot of praying, Tonkowich’s inspiration came to him: organize a “Wash for Life.”

Modeled on the familiar parking lot car washes held by school and church groups, Wash for Life would be different. It would be held on a single day, have a national structure and serve the dual purposes of raising awareness about the destructive nature of abortion and raising money for women in need at crisis-pregnancy centers.

Tonkowich brought his idea to his Thomas Aquinas College classmates and received an instant and positive response.

Ingrid Mitchell, another member of that school’s graduating class of 2006, was so impressed with the prospect that she put off her graduate studies in psychology to help as the organization’s assistant director.

“I love the idea of Wash for Life because it’s a chance to act in our own hometowns,” Mitchell told the Register. “Even though it is one day of the year, it helps and shows the world that thousands of us are willing to create and uphold the culture of life.”

Aiming High

An army of two, Tonkowich and Mitchell soon began collecting other classmates who wanted to help. They also caught the attention of the college chaplain, Jesuit Father Cornelius Buckley. The priest gives an enthusiastic endorsement of the Wash for Life initiative.

“These young men and women, though not all Catholic, are indeed esprits forts in the true sense of the term,” he explains. “They want to use their Thomas Aquinas College education to change the culture of death, not merely to grab headlines in secular media for ephemeral causes.”

With the exception of Hillary Rowney, who will be a junior at Thomas Aquinas in the fall, the other key team members of Wash for Life, Briena Dunkel, Henry Teichert and John Cunningham, all graduated in May and have dedicated their immediate futures to participate.

Basing themselves in Tonkowich’s hometown of Falls Church, Va., Wash for Life has specific and definable goals it would like to achieve on its big first day — Sept. 16, 2006.

Wash for Life will help with the practical monetary needs of crisis-pregnancy centers across the country as the car washes held on that date will donate funds to local support organizations.

The group will raise awareness about options available to pregnant women — options that do not include abortion.

And it will organize and amplify the voices of concerned and engaged youth groups, creating a venue for social impact in individual communities, making them heard on a national level and allowing young people to make a difference for life in their own backyards.

Since settling in at their headquarters in Virginia, the tireless Wash for Life workers have been making contacts and fielding inquiries from all over the country (and some even from overseas), helping other young people to organize their local Wash for Life events on Sept. 16.

Recently Tonkowich met with Catholic writer and commentator Michael Novak, one of the leading intellectual lights in the Church today. Novak told the Register he was impressed not only with the caliber of the young people but also with the ingenuity of their project.

“Wash for Life is one of the most practical and innovative programs for young people I have encountered in many years,” he says. “All who support the ‘culture of life’ should rev up their autos and SUVs for a good washing.”

Love in Action

Other such encounters have followed. In June the Wash for Life team attended the National Right to Life Convention in Nashville and was given more encouragement from Father Frank Pavone of Priests for Life and actress and pro-life activist Jennifer O’Neill.

Wash for Life may be just a well-organized fund-raiser — or, below the suds, it may be something a little more.

“Building a just social and civil order, wherein each person receives what is his or her due,” wrote Pope Benedict XVI in Deus Caritas Est (God Is Love), “is an essential task which every generation must take up anew.”     

With notable verve and determination, six young adults from a small liberal arts college in California are about to apply that teaching in the best way they know how.

Look for them and their “franchisees” at a parking lot near you — and be sure to hold off washing your car till Sept. 16.


Robert Brennan writes from

Los Angeles.


Wash for Life

(703) 241-7171