South Tampa Today: Good CARma Bringing Wheels of Success, One Car at a Time

The average Tampa commuter spends a little more than twenty minutes in their car each day traveling back and forth to work. Last year, Forbes magazine ranked the Tampa Bay area as the single worst metropolitan area in the entire United States for commuting. It seems as though the flying cars we were promised as kids won’t materialize any time soon, leaving our intrepid automobiles the task of taking us to and fro, idling in traffic on I-275 or breezing through side streets via “secret” shortcuts.

Cars are a necessity for most Tampa residents. As our city continues to expand, so too does our reliance on automobiles to get us where we want to go. Though we may scourge the very notion of our morning commute, we’re still lucky to have a job to go to and have our own cars to get us there.

But what if something happened in our lives to where we could no longer afford our cars? What if we lost our jobs in this tough economy or suffered some devastating economic setback that turned our lives upside down? What if the only job we could find happened to be completely across town and somehow navigating Tampa’s bus system was our only option?

Enter Susan Jacobs and Wheels of Success. As the former manager of a staffing agency, Susan became all-too familiar with the plight many workers found themselves in without a vehicle at their disposal. Highly qualified and talented people were forced to turn down job opportunities all because the necessary hours were incompatible with the public transportation system or in locations just too far away. Susan created Wheels of Success in 2003 as a way of helping individuals like these get their lives back on track. “I really wanted to help people who can’t get the help they need because they make too much for government assistance but too little to really get ahead,” said Jacobs. “There are so many people out there who fall through the cracks and just need that extra advantage a car brings.”

Wheels of Success has given away over 410 vehicles since its inception in 2003 and provided over 400 car services ranging from repairs to tagging and everything in between to Tampa Bay families. Recipients must be working full time (or actively searching), be referred by a reputable community agency and gain the approval of the Wheels of Success Board of Directors. Applicants are graded on a points system with priority given to victims of domestic violence, veterans and young adults aging out of the foster care system. As a way of “paying it forward,” recipients are able to “buy” their cars through manageable monthly installments, are required to take a car maintenance class and must give back their time to volunteering for the organization. “Our goal is to help these individuals become productive members of the community by giving them they what they need to get to work,” explained Jacobs. “We are always looking for donations!” she added.

Your chance to help a family in need is just around the corner. On Monday, September 5, Wheels of Success will be changing the lives of 55 area families as they celebrate the 6th annual “Working Wheels Keep Families Working” Labor Day event at the Tampa Convention Center. This amazing event is being held in partnership with the Ryan Nece Foundation and in conjunction with Turner Exposition’s Florida’s Largest Home Show and is open to the public for the first time ever. Fifty-five lucky families will each receive a donated car to help them gain some control of their lives and get back on the road to self-sufficiency. You can get involved by helping to “build a car” with your donations and take part in the car giving festivities taking place throughout the event. There are still over 75 approved families left on the list, hoping to one day receive their own wheels of success. With your help, they’ll be able to get back to work and in the fast lane to recovery.

For more information on how you can help a family in need or to make a donation, please visit

Joe Statile |