One of the main barriers to consistent employment for low-income people: Unreliable transportation. If the bus is late or doesn’t serve the area where people live or work, say, or a child’s school or daycare is at a distance from a parent’s workplace, it can lead to missed shifts and a lost job — leaving the family worse off than ever.
This is where Wheels to Work steps in. The nonprofit, which serves a variety of locations throughout the U.S., including Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, California and South Dakota, accepts donated vehicles, fixes them up and provides them to struggling families — either for free or for a low price.
Before receiving the keys to a dependable car, participants in the Wheels to Work program sponsored by the Wisconsin Automotive & Truck Education Association (WATEA) must take a course called Money Smart, which teaches them about money management, vehicle maintenance and budgeting. Meanwhile, WATEA enlists the help of students overseen by mechanic mentors to repair the vehicles, teaching them automotive skills that might lead to a career.
Participants in the WATEA program must earn no more than twice the salary of the federal poverty level, possess a driver’s license and a good driving record and either have a job or be actively looking for work.
The program has shown such promise that more communities are introducing it every year. The city of Charlottesville and the Monticello Area Community Action Agency hope to introduce Wheels to Work in Virginia early next year, but first, according to WVIR, they’re seeking help from the community to launch it by looking for partners who will help them repair donated cars.
One recipient of a Wheels to Work vehicle named Charles from Virginia, used to be a drug addict but has turned his life around. He now works as a limousine driver and relishes the freedom that the Wheels to Work car has brought him. “I am able to give people rides now,” he tells Jennifer M. Drummond of CARITAS. “I can visit my grandchildren and it gives me an opportunity to enjoy life more.”