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Florida Trend | Mike Vogel | August 1, 2010

Trendsetters - Non-profits

Running a staffing agency, Susan Jacobs encountered a recurring problem in placing people in low-wage jobs in the clerical and hospitality fields. Bus schedules didn’t work out, and if prospects did have a car, they lacked one with the stamina for a daily commute.
"This piece wasn’t being addressed," says Jacobs. To address it, in 2003 she founded Wheels of Success, a Tampa non-profit that puts needy working people in a functional car. It gives away about 70 cars a year and helps with repairs and services on another 70. The cars, usually donated by individuals, are good enough to last their new owners at least a year. "This isn’t your dream car, but hopefully it’s going to get you to your dreams," Jacobs tells the recipients.

Jacobs knows from experience. Decades ago, she left an abusive relationship and found herself temporarily without transport. At Wheels, half of her applicants are domestic violence victims. Recipients donate three hours of service a month in clerical work at Wheels, which keeps overhead low, and pay a small percentage of their income, on average $40 to $50 a month toward repair of the vehicle, to help the organization.

Jacobs gets enough vehicles to supply only one in five qualified applicants. The federal cash-for-clunkers program hurt by reducing the number of functional vehicles available for Jacobs’ clientele. A woman who enjoys networking, Jacobs, 60, is always prospecting for car donors and support. "If I’m eating out at a restaurant, they get a (business) card along with a tip."

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