No car? No problem
For those who have trouble finding work due to a lack of reliable transportation, help could soon be pulling up to their door.
Sanford resident Bill Cline said one frustration he hears every week while attending meetings for job seekers around Lee County — and he goes just about every week — is transportation problems. People either can't afford a car, he said, or they do have one but can't afford the gas or insurance because they don't have a job. But they can't get a job without a car, so the cycle continues.
That's where Sanford Job Express comes in. Cline decided a little more than a year ago that he would help these people by buying some vans and establishing a free — or at least very-low-cost — taxi service. And now, he said, it could be reality as soon as January if all goes right with fundraising.
To avoid asking for any money from the local, state or federal governments, Cline wanted Job Express to be a nonprofit, which he thought would make fundraising easier.
But the process has been easier said than done. After months and months of wrangling with the IRS to convince them he was a 501(c)3 charity, he got a nonprofit status a few weeks ago.
He said he was so frustrated by the system that he eventually asked for and received help from the offices of U.S. Rep. Renee Ellmers and U.S. Sen. Richard Burr in dealing with the IRS bureaucracy, which he compared to "pulling teeth from a buffalo."
But that's in the past. Now that Job Express is an official charity, Cline and Irene Smith, a local woman who's helping Cline with finances, have multiple grant applications up for review and are beginning a fundraising campaign as well. They said they plan to ask specific businesses for support in exchange for helping their employees (and prospective employees) with transportation; Cline plans to do a pilot program, serving two or three companies for the first six months and then expand if it goes well.
"We're trying to be cautious," Cline said. "We don't want to get in over our heads."
Smith said it's possible that the vans could even be used to fill other needs in the hours between dropping workers off and picking them up, such as helping other charities or even the general public.
"This is a project that is solid — and badly needed — and we really need viable public transportation in Lee County," Smith said. "... I think this will do that. We will run the buses to and from work, and in between, I could see us running up and down Horner (Boulevard). And groups like HAVEN and Family Promise, they really need transportation, too."
HAVEN aids victims of domestic abuse and helps with transportation to work or court; Family Promise is a day center for homeless families that focuses on helping the adults get an education, a job or both.
Cline and Smith both said that right now, their main priority is seeking more input, and funding, from local companies in the area. Last October, when the idea was just starting to come to fruition, Cline told The Herald he had sent surveys to more than a dozen large employers in Lee County, and all of them wrote back that they and their employees would benefit from such a program.
Once he starts narrowing down the list of who is most interested, and once some grant money starts coming in, Cline said he'll gauge how much more is needed. If necessary, he said, he'll throw some pancake breakfasts or other fundraisers, and in the meantime, he said anyone who wants to support the program is more than welcome to contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or (919) 478-8178.
"We've had a lot of people," Cline said about demand for such a program. "When I go to Job Seekers (a group that meets weekly at First Baptist Church) — and I still go up every Wednesday — I always give a report, and people ask me when we're going to get started."