Bay News 9: Bay Area Organization Holds the Key to Success for Those Who Need It

TAMPA — Sometimes the key to success is simply a key.

At least that’s what one Bay area organization believes, and they have the keys and success stories to prove it.

Wheels of Success, an organization that focuses on empowering the working class individual who has fallen on hard times, held a fundraising event on Friday evening in Tampa where they paired up deserving, working class adults with a car to get around.

An array of red and green lights set the scene for an event celebrating individuals who are aiming to go far. The 8th annual R.A.C.E. event consisted of hundreds of raffled off items, mini car slots, a race track runway, and a yellow 40th anniversary Mustang convertible ready for auction.

David Bledsoe, the Marketing Coordinator of Wheels of Success, said the recipients are all individuals who work full time and are referred to the program by local agencies. The recipients usually fall into categories of domestic violence, veterans, caregivers, and aging out foster children, but there are exceptions.

“The program is intended for individuals who are on their way to being self-sufficient, or on a path of success but have fallen on hard times,” said Bledsoe. “The cars end up being a key piece to take them to a huge other step.”

The recipients aren’t just given a car with a responsibility they will likely fail at keeping up with. Wheels of Success carefully chooses their recipients after researching whether they can afford it, among other factors.

“We don’t just want to give away cars, we want to make a difference in their lives,” said Bledsoe.

The recipients are expected to make monthly payments and fulfill volunteer hours after receiving their cars. They eventually own the title. They are also expected to take a car care class, which will help them prepare for going beyond the program.

One of the recipients, 19-year-old Nieosha Johnson, of St. Petersburg, either walks or takes the bus to one of three SPCA campuses on any given day. She attends classes at the various campuses while she works towards becoming an LPN and finishing up a nursing program.

“It was a big surprise,” said Johnson. “They don’t usually pick people my age, but they said they were amazed with my progress.”

Johnson has been on her own since she was 17 years old and works at a St. Petersburg McDonald’s. She was referred to the program from a woman she met at a Daystar.

“It’s truly the best blessing,” said Johnson. “I’ve been helped tremendously by this woman. I showed her I really want to do something and be somebody.”

Once she got the call that she was picked for the program, she said she was very honored.

“I just cried and I just couldn’t believe it,” Johnson said.

The first thing Johnson wants to do once she gets her car is drive it to her grandmother’s house to shower her.

Johnson wants to eventually run her own nursing home.

I really want to be something,” said Johnson. “I have a goal and I want to stay focused.”

Founder of Wheels of Success Susan Jacobs said the goal of the event was to raise enough money to match up 20 cars with deserving recipients, once they are donated.

Along with being a fundraiser, Jacobs says she hopes the event brings awareness around the Bay area.

“We want to make people aware of what it would be like to live in this community without a car,” said Jacobs.

Johnson was entered into the program as part of the car for caregivers category, since she is going to school to be a nurse. Her car donor was a veteran in assisted living and had decided he did not need a car anymore to get around.

Jacobs said the organization tries to match up the donor with the recipient.

Wheels of Success always accepts vehicles, boats and RVs. If you’d like to donate, please call 813-417-1090.

Bay News 9