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Putting Idle Vans to Work

Advocating for Underserved Communities

Several years ago, I asked the manager of the local food bank who made up the bulk of her clientele.

She told me the vast majority of the people she serves were people that have been displaced from their careers for any number of reasons. The problem was the job retraining programs were all 30 miles to the south at a community college.

At the time, I thought, “That seems like a simple fix—let’s get them to the campus.”

I tucked that information away until the winter of 2021. At the youth center I helped create, we had four commuter vans to transport kids from local schools to the center. But, those vans weren’t needed until after school so they were just sitting the rest of the day. I figured we could use those vans to take people to the college for job retraining.

So that’s what we did. I found a couple of people willing to drive and a couple more who needed a ride to the college and even self-funded the program for the first two months – just because I knew it would be an asset to the community.

Sure enough, we got students to campus. But the service has become so much more than I could have imagined.

We now offer an on-demand service in which people can call and request a ride to the store, doctor’s office and more.

When it became clear we were offering a valuable service, I began looking for more funding.

Throughout the process of learning about public transportation, I met a few experts who believed in what I was trying to do. They began to send me more information and potential resources including grant applications. One of those was a planning grant that allowed us to cover payroll and expenses while we did the research about how to expand the service. Once we completed that project, and it was clear our community was willing to support the work, we because we are helping keep our community healthy. All together we have brought in nearly got another grant to begin the process. We also received grant funding from a local hospital $60,000 in grant funding in the last year.

My goal is to have this service fully funded with grant and community support within three years. We are now building a hybrid service. We will have a regularly scheduled service that takes our residents to local commerce centers within 50 miles of our community, and we will continue to offer the on-demand service for people who need a ride to medical care.

I firmly believe a rising tide sails all ships.

If we can give people access to the resources, they need such as education, medical service and social interaction, we create healthier, happier communities. And that’s a benefit to everyone.


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