TBO: Vehicle Giveaway to Help Working Poor

TAMPA — Ashley McDuffie can hardly wait to get her first car.

Each morning, McDuffie, 20, and a former foster child, must get her 1-year-old brother, whom she has custody, to day care and try to make it to Hillsborough Community College. But the bus schedule often makes her late for her classes, where she is pursuing an associate’s degree in child care.

Come Monday, McDuffie’s mode of transportation will change because she is one of 55 individuals or families who will receive a car at the sixth annual Working Wheels Keep Families Working event. The vehicles will be presented during Florida’s Largest Home Show at the Tampa Convention Center.

“It’s going to be so much easier,” said McDuffie, who took the bus to Brewster Vocational School where she earned a certificate in child care, but wants the associate’s degree so that she can eventually open her own day care center. “It’s going to be a real life for me and for Junior (her brother).”

“Now I’m rushing to get him to the day care center and he’ll be the last kid there picked up,” said McDuffie, who was in foster care from ages 15 to 18 and now in an independent, transitional program for former foster children.

Sponsored by the nonprofit Wheels of Success program, in cooperation with the Ryan Nece Foundation, the event awards vehicles to low- and moderate-income people who have been referred by different agencies to the organization. The recipients must be working or attending school.

All recipients must make no-interest payments for a year and donate at least five hours a month of volunteer service to Wheels of Success.

McDuffie will pay $25 a month, a little less than the average payment because she is a student, said Susan Jacobs, founder of Wheels of Success.

The organization accepts donations of working and nonworking vehicles. It has the cars restored and helps the recipients secure a driver’s licenses and insurance.

Jacobs said the organization, since its founding in 2003, has distributed more than 400 vehicles and has helped more than 400 other people with car repairs or other transportation-related needs.

Jacobs said the organization has helped former foster children get cars for two years, but now is receiving requests from more “unaccompanied youth,” those 18 to 20 with no family involved in their lives.

This year’s distribution will be made in public for the first time. The ceremony also will include the awarding of vehicle titles to those who got cars last year and have made all payments.

Wheels of Success board member Luis De La Torre helps arrange the repairs and gives car care classes to the recipients.

“It really makes it all worthwhile when you meet the recipients and hear their stories,” De La Torre said.

Lenora Lake | TBO.com