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WTSP.com | September 6, 2010

Wheels of Success: Families trade in bus pass for cars

Tampa, Florida - Every wonder how important a car is to your everyday life, from going to work, taking you kids to school, running errands or going away on vacation could you be without it? Many families don't have a car and depend on public transportation or rides from family and friends. Today, 45 families receive the key unlocking their road to independence.

"This is the best birthday present I've ever gotten. I turned 35 on Saturday," says Yvette Williamson. Despite the challenges she faces, this single mother of two and grandmother is driven to succeed and the ride just got smoother. The full-time student and full-time worker is trading in her bus pass for a minivan.

Williamson has been without a car for two years. "It could have been a box with wheels. We could have Fred Flintstoned it all the way home and not matter," says Williamson. She adds, "It's awesome, it's great. There's plenty of room."

Williamson says she and her 17-year-old daughter, 6-year-old son and 3-year-old granddaughter walk eight blocks to catch the bus. "It's kind of hard going grocery shopping or doing laundry using the bus," says Williamson.

She stopped attending classes in Human Services at St. Pete College, because she says riding the bus takes too much time away from her children, so she's been taking classes online. Williamson says now with a car, she can get back into the classroom.

Yvette is one of 45 families receiving donated cars through the program Wheels of Success. This is the 5th annual car "Working Wheels Keep Families Working" Labor Day Event.

"It's a life changer, not just for me, for everyone here," says Rafael Martinez. The father of two says his new donated car gives him back his independence. "It's been very complicated doing things with my kids getting them to school picking them up on the weekends. I had to rely on friends and family," says Martinez.

The families don't earn the titles on the car just yet. First they will have to pay about $50 a month for the next year and volunteer three hours a month for Wheels of Success, and all that effort goes back to help families next year.

"It's not just about a car, but about a person's quality of life and where they are going to be next year, because they have that car," says Susan Jacobs, founder and CEO of Wheels of Success. The organization has given away 346 vehicles and 365 car-related services in five years.

For a second year, Wheels of Success teams up with former Tampa Bay Buccaneer Ryan Nece's Foundation and his Power of Giving Campaign.

"The Power of Giving is each of us as individuals at any given moment at any given day do random acts of generosity to make our world a better place. If we all embrace that, we can do something powerful, something big. It does not have to be 55 cars, it can be 55 smiles in a week. Whatever you choose to do, as long as you choose to make a difference," says Nece.

The former football player says the people he helps along with Wheels of Success are a true inspiration. "It's amazing the challenges they are presented with, yet they continue to move on. They continue to strive and they continue to have hope. With our foundation, we give them a helping hand up, not a helping hand out."

Nece then adds, "They continue to do positive things in the community. I'm inspired. These people have the courage, the strength and commitment to continue and try to make a difference in our area."

As Williamson prepares to drive off she says, "If anyone needs a ride, I'm volunteering! Thank you Wheels of Success."

 
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