Nancy Vaughan For The Herald Bulletin December 22, 2019
In my 25-plus years of involvement with United Way, I have never been in a discussion of unmet needs/barriers to self-sufficiency that did not list access to transportation as a priority issue. In Madison County, as in almost all suburban and rural areas of our country, access to transportation equals owning a vehicle.
The most recent ALICE report – Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed – notes that on average 16 percent of Indiana families’ budgets are spent on transportation; yet 16 percent of earnings of an ALICE household is not enough to afford even the running costs of a car. The report adds, “While Indiana’s public transportation systems are state-funded, there is no government spending on transportation specifically for ALICE and poverty-level families.” Even with the estimated $71.5 million on transportation assistance and programming provided by nonprofits in 2016, a 53 percent gap in resources for those households remains.
The issue surfaced with the Community Impact Committee for United Way of Madison County earlier this year due to the number of Thrive client requests for assistance for car repairs. The size and frequency of the requests threatened to quickly deplete our resources, but the larger issue was whether our dollars were really providing a solution if they were spent to patch unreliable vehicles. I wished aloud – as I have many times over the past couple of decades – that we had the money to launch a car loan program similar to one developed by the Greater Twin Cities United Way. David Dodd, CEO of Madison County Federal Credit Union and a member of CIC, raised his eyebrows. Then the conversation took a new turn.
Over the next few months, pieces came together. Tim Thompson, owner of Thompson Insurance, mentioned a desired to invest in our work in a specific and significant way. MCFCU and United Way boards developed outlines for a jointly-secured loan program for Thrive clients. Thrive coaches and United Way staff developed client service guidelines and qualifications for referral for the assistance. Considerations for ensuring quality vehicles at reasonable costs, insurance and maintenance were included.
Finally, as of this month, Thrive Ways to Work is officially a service of the Thrive Network in Madison County. We’re still making connections to make sure we can offer quality assistance and build a program that can grow to assist more people.
Far from a car give-away, Thrive Ways to Work combines financial education and coaching with credit- building, automobile ownership education (including inspections, maintenance and insurance), and most of all – filling the reliable transportation gap for struggling households.
Just as important, the program is a model for proactive engagement of individuals and businesses to be partners in community solutions. The combination of resources, expertise and desire to make a difference is the exact formula of the United Way impact model. Together we can build programs that support people, strengthen families and create thriving communities.
Now, if we could find similar projects for quality affordable housing…and childcare! Our door is open for your ideas, expertise and investments.
Nancy Vaughan is President of United Way of Madison County. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 765-608-3061.