Rexrode | St.
Petersburg Times |
March 25, 2007
Here's a key to stability
Imagine having a job and a family, but no
vehicle. Could you get from Point A to B, C
and D and keep your commitments? That's where
Wheels of Success comes in.
a job is only half the battle. Getting to
the job can be a whole different challenge.
That's what Susan Jacobs realized several years
ago when she was running a staffing agency
that specialized in low-skill hospitality jobs.
Many of her workers didn't have cars and
she'd end up driving them to temp jobs on the
In 2003 Jacobs founded Wheels of Success with
a two-car donation and a vision to help the
working poor keep their jobs without having
to walk to work. Last month, her Tampa nonprofit
was recognized by the Points of Light Foundation
in Washington, D.C.
Wheels has helped 130 families in Hillsborough,
Pinellas and Pasco counties. Almost 100 of
those families received vehicles; the rest
got financial help with car repairs, down payments
The problem that Jacobs is tackling is especially
poignant in the Tampa Bay area, where walking
to work is usually out of the question and
public transportation is intermittent.
Without Wheels, said Christina Trude, she'd
be asking her grandmother to chauffeur her
and her two children.
Trude, 27, an office manager in Tampa, lost
her car during a marital separation. Jacobs'
organization found a 1993 Mercury Voyager for
"I really needed it really badly," Trude
Wheels of Success is aimed at workers who
earn too much to qualify for government transportation
programs but struggle to make ends meet.
"If you're working two jobs, trying to
feed your kids and the transmission goes out
on your car, you don't have $1,500 to fix it," Jacobs
This isn't a free lunch, Jacobs, 57, notes.
Recipients must make monthly payments for their
vehicles based on their income. They must work
full time, and they must be referred by a social
services agency, a church or their employer.
The vehicles they get aren't meant to last
10 years - just long enough for them to get
back on their feet.
That was exactly the kind of help that Linda
In 2005 she was a successful real estate agent.
Then, in one year, her father died, she separated
from her husband and the housing market tanked.
She fell behind on her van payments.
"I woke up on Jan. 15, and my van was
gone," said Bolling, 30, of New Port Richey. "I
had been trying to make up the back payments,
and I didn't expect them to come and take it
anyway, but that's the way it works."
She rented a car for a week to get to her
job at Orange Street Lending in Tarpon Springs.
But that set her back almost $160, so she checked
the bus schedule. It wasn't encouraging.
"I would have had to leave the house
at 6:15 in the morning just to get to work
at 8:30," Bolling said. And she couldn't
imagine how she would get her three children
to school and other activities.
On Jan. 25, Wheels of Success gave her the
title to a 1995 Nissan Quest.
"They saved me," Bolling said.
As Wheels chugs toward its fourth birthday,
Jacobs plans to tweak her business strategy.
She'd prefer clients come to her before they
lose their cars so she can help them work with
a lender. And she'd like to pursue more partnerships
with companies that have workers who are promising
but don't have reliable transportation.
"Employers obviously can't write their
employees a check for a car," Jacobs said, "but
they can (help them) through Wheels of Success."
Bolling hopes she can give back to the organization
that helped her so much.
"When life recovers," she said,
she'll give her van back to Wheels and hope
that another family will benefit as hers did.
Christina Rexrode can be reached at email@example.com
"Employers obviously can't write their
employees a check for a car, but they can (help
them) through Wheels of Success."
Susan Jacobs, Wheels of Success founder, discussing
ways she imagines the organization can help
clients before they lose their transportation
Chunk of change for transportation
The average Tampa family devotes 19 percent
of its expenditures, or $6,855 per year, to
transportation. Of that, $217 goes toward public
transportation each year, according to 2004
data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The
bureau stopped tracking Tampa for its consumer
expenditure surveys in 2005.
Wheels of Success will put on
its inaugural RACE Luncheon and Hub Cap Awards
from 11:30 a.m. to 1:15 p.m. April 27 at the
Quorum Westshore Hotel in Tampa, and it's selling
tickets and corporate sponsorships. Call (813)417-1090
or visit www.wheelsofsuccess.org for details.
Also, call or visit the site for information
about volunteering to answer phones, help at
events and more.