TBO: Refurbished Cars from Wheels of Success Change People’s Lives

TAMPA — Brenda Oshodin could not afford a car of her own because most of her paycheck was spent getting her house out of foreclosure.

Oshodin, 56, had a four-hour commute by bus to and from work. She couldn’t go shopping when she wanted, couldn’t be on time for doctor’s appointments and couldn’t visit friends on a whim.

On Saturday, everything changed.

Oshodin drove off in a refurbished sport utility vehicle, courtesy of a local nonprofit with a mission of helping people get back on their feet and back on the road.

“I got a Chevy Blazer!” said Oshodin, as she laughed and hugged the SUV. “I am so happy. This is beyond my wildest dreams. This will take away all the uncertainties of my life.”

Oshodin and 24 other people received vehicles Saturday courtesy of Wheels of Success, which helps families in crisis. The nonprofit distributed the vehicles 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Tampa Convention Center, which temporarily looked like a dealership with all the cars parked in the front and colorful balloons tied to side view mirrors.

“Our goal is to keep you working,” said Susan Jacobs, president of Wheels of Success, told the 25 new car owners. “We want to keep you in that car.”

Each vehicle comes with a 90-day warranty, in the event that owners realize their car needs more repairs or there was a problem that the nonprofit’s mechanics did not previous spot, Jacobs said.

Wheels of Success has provided 530 cars and 534 car-related services to Tampa families since it was founded eight years ago. Eighty percent of recipients have children, according to the nonprofit, and some have been homeless, victims of domestic violence, foster children who have aged out or families in a financial crunch.

Brenis Mondesir was thrilled to get a blue Pontiac Sunbird on Saturday. The coupe had a scratch on the hood and some missing paint on the roof, but Mondesir, 20, broke down in tears when she opened the door and sat down.

“This is my first car,” she said. “I’ve been borrowing my sister’s car. Now I can go to work, knowing I’ll be on time … oh my God, I’m so happy.”

The nonprofit was able to distribute the cars even though it is going through a transition. Its main office, formerly located at the Family Justice Center on North Florida Avenue ,is shutting down because the center, an umbrella organization that helps victims of domestic violence, lost its funding this year.

“But we aren’t closing our doors,” Jacobs said.

Wheels of Success will now operate out of its small car lot on East Hillsborough Avenue and continue to provide services there. It’s cramped and lacks the infrastructure to support a full staff and volunteers, but Jacobs said she’ll make it work.

“While we can help the clients on our waiting list, and provide automotive services to those already with cars, the loss” of the office at the justice center means “we won’t be able to accept new applications from families that need a vehicle for at least one to two months,” Jacobs said.

The nonprofit will continue to accept vehicles in any condition, even if they’re not working.

Cars and money for repairs can be donated to Wheels of Success at (813) 417-1090 or through its website, www.wheelsofsuccess.org.

Ray Reyes | TBO.com