SPT: Wheels of Success Keep on Turning

A friend once asked if I knew the two saddest words in the world.

After too many guesses, he offered a simple answer: What party?

For me, the little joke resonated because I want to get invited to every celebration. I may not get to every party, but it’s nice to think the host thought to include you.

Given my love for a good time, you have to know I jumped when Wheels of Success executive director Susan Jacobs extended an invite to her Groovy Aquarian Birthday Bash on Jan. 28.

Like Jacobs, I’m an Aquarian and the date of her fundraiser/friendraiser is one day shy of my birthday. She went on to explain that the nonprofit bash will celebrate five clients, including three who will get keys to cars.

I looked at Jacobs and said, “You had me at groovy.”

Still, she suggested I share the story of Brenda Banks.

Banks leaves her South Pasadena house at 5 a.m. every weekday and trudges to a bus stop to make her way to the Girls Inc. of Pinellas headquarters in Pinellas Park.

On a good day, she arrives at 6:55 a.m. after walking a mile from the bus stop.

Banks works a split shift, but doesn’t bother trying to get home after her first stint wraps up at 9:30 a.m. She stays at Girls Inc. and waits for the second shift to begin at 1 p.m. Unfortunately, she has to leave a little early — around 5 p.m. — to catch the last bus and get home by 7 p.m. to see her three children: Austyn, 15, Danielle, 12, Nicolas, 7.

Banks’ mom takes Danielle and Nicolas to school, but Austyn rides his bike to school before the sun comes up.

“It’s hard for me because I’m a very overprotective mom,” Banks said Thursday. “It took me a lot of cries to get over the fact I had to send my son to school in the dark.”

The struggle started a few years ago after she took her income tax return and bought a car at a buy-here, pay-here lot. Seemingly from the day she drove off the lot, the car gave her troubles.

At the shop after yet another breakdown, the mechanic asked for $1,500. Two days later, Banks learned someone had rolled the odometer back.

“At that point, I got really frustrated and I almost gave up because I didn’t want to deal with it anymore,” Banks said. “When you don’t have very much money, you have to get something less than reliable and it just causes more problems.”

Come Jan. 28, Banks will strap into a Honda CRV courtesy of a Brandon resident who read a previous Times story about Wheels of Success. Banks will own the car after volunteering for the group and making minimal monthly payments for a year.

Trust me, I don’t need much of a reason to celebrate surviving another year, but the thought of Banks driving her kids in that car will make my birthday a little bit sweeter.

That’s all I’m saying.

If you go
Groovy Aquarian Bash
When: Jan. 28, 6-10 p.m. at Centre Club, 123 S West Shore Blvd.
Tickets: $40, or two for $75 in advance, $50 each the day of event. Aquarians get in free with a paying guest. (Cost is $20 for Aquarians who don’t bring a paid guest).
Need more? wheelsofsuccess.org, or (813) 417-1090.

Ernest Hooper | St. Petersburg Times