JUDY HILL The Tampa Tribune | Sep
21, 2006 | visit
Programs Gets Needy Rolling
There was no time for a bittersweet goodbye.
The tow-truck driver hooked the thick cable
to the underside of the car, hauled it onto
the bed of the truck and quickly motored away.
The Golden Retriever - what the grandsons
called the goldish-beige car that for seven
years fetched them from school, soccer and
more - was off to a new home.
Since the Retriever had a troubled transmission,
it wasn't traded in as part of a new car deal.
Instead, the family donated it to Wheels of
Success, a program that is just 3 years old
but has so far provided 100 families with vehicles
to get to work.
Wheels was started by Susan Jacobs, whose
personal experiences gave her an acute understanding
of how important reliable transportation is
to the working poor.
A relative helped her out when she was down
on her luck. But many folks don't have relatives
who can help.
So they're left out in the cold, waiting for
buses that never come - or they rely on friends
Or worse. Because they have poor credit, or
none at all, they're forced to buy a junker
- or something from a buy here-pay here car
lot that charges high interest. Often it's
a car that wasn't well-maintained in its previous
life and will break down over and over again
with ills that are expensive to fix.
Pay it Forward
The Retriever had a fair number of miles
on it, but it had been taken care of. (I'm
not revealing much else about the car,
including its make and model, because Wheels
wants to keep that information confidential.)
Aside from the transmission, the car was in
good condition - but its worth on a trade was
Wheels had the car repaired, and on Labor
Day, it was given to one of nine families that
met the organization's income and job criteria.
They included two victims of domestic violence
and several single moms. One woman drives from
northeast Hillsborough to south county to work.
Eleven other vehicles, some donated by car
dealers, are in the process of placement.
"If we could get each dealership to each
donate one car, we could give out 100 cars
a year," Jacobs says. "The need is
The recipients also are given a year's membership
in AAA, courtesy of AAA Auto Club South - one
of Wheels' sponsors - and help with repairing
and maintaining their cars. In return, they
pay a small amount based on their income, which
helps the all-volunteer organization provide
other vehicles to more working folks in need.
Applicants must be referred by agencies such
as the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay, The Spring
of Tampa Bay, the Hillsborough County school
district, Metropolitan Ministries, St. Joseph's
Hospital and others.
Employers also may refer workers to the program.
For information on donating money or vehicles
to the program, or to receive a vehicle or
nominate someone, go to wheelsofsuccess.org.
One Person Can Make A Difference
Since I first interviewed Jacobs in January
2004, the program has flourished. She developed
an impressive board of directors and an equally
impressive array of sponsors, including AAA
Auto Club South, Bill Currie Ford, Sears
Automotive, Creative Living, Thompson Cigars
- her employer - and many others. The program
also has received money from the Children's
Board of Hillsborough County.
All this from a woman who, not too many years
ago, was down - but not out. When she got back
on her feet, she actually reached out to help
What a concept.