WUSF News: Non-Profit Keeping People in their Cars is Losing its Home

Wheels of Success, a non-profit that keeps people employed by providing low cost cars to those in need is losing its home. They’ve lost their headquarters office on Florida Avenue in Tampa.

Wheels of Success gives out about 100 cars a year. And their biggest distribution event is their labor day event which happened Saturday. It’s their annual Working Wheels Keep Families Working Pre-Labor Day event. CEO and founder Susan Jacobs says it’s actually a little early this year.

“Now that we’re doing our Labor Day event- we’re actually doing it pre-Labor Day, which was interesting – and thank goodness because otherwise we would have had to been out of here,” Jacobs said.

This year, Jacobs is worrying about more than just getting those 25 cars out to the event. She has to find a place to house her organization.

“Well, it’s pretty dramatic for us because this is our main location,” Jacobs said.

The organization was housed in the Family Justice Center on Florida Avenue. The Center lost some of its funding for this year which means social services agencies that were housed there have had to find a new location.

The Center charged a nominal rent and covered some administrative costs.

“Which helps us keep our costs really low and use up our funding for program specifically, to get cars out and not for those administrative things,” said Jacobs.

Administrative things like IT support, the copy room and a receptionist. That all came with the Family Justice Center.

For now, Jacobs will be working out of the small car lot on Hillsborough Avenue. She says it’s not ideal because of the small space but she has to choose her next location carefully.

“I don’t want to jump into anything and then have to move twice,” she said. “I really want to make sure it’s the right place and operate out of the car lot even though it might not be the best facility because it’s small we can still operate.”

Jacobs says there are certain things she needs.

“We don’t want to be in an agency that maybe we don’t have a fit with just because of the space, and we have to be on a bus line for people coming to us so there’s a lot of factors,” she said.

Even though there is a waiting list for cars, Jacobs says she won’t be able to accept any new applications until she finds a new location.

“I think this time we’re going to really need that time to get situated so we’re going to tell people- or if the application comes in, we’re not going to look at it, so don’t even think about hearing from us before November,” Jacobs assured.

That means, people like Lynn Martinez would be out of a car.

“I had one income, and I have a mortgage, and a daughter and I have a grandson,” Martinez explains. “The truck I was driving was 24 years old already and I got my money’s worth out of it, I just couldn’t afford a new car payment.”

Wheels of Success got her into another car this past July. She says it has really made a difference.

“Air conditioning! Yay! And the windows are automatic! That’s another plus,” she exclaims. “It’s great, we can go to the beach, we can leave and go out any time of day because we have AC now. When you have a little grandson, he’s only 4 it’s just too hot in the mid hours of the day to take him. I would never do that to him,” said Martinez.

Martinez is now volunteering at Wheels of Success helping Jacobs with the move.

Yoselis Ramos | WUSF News