Connecting opportunities to the people who need them most: how a school bus is helping people on the journey to a better life.
It looks like any yellow school bus but the people getting on aren’t students, and they’re not heading to any classroom.
They’re not carrying backpacks, but the heavy baggage of life.
“Many of the folks who are getting on the bus are currently living in homeless shelters, recovery houses. These are folks who’ve lost their homes. They’ve lost much of what we would take for granted in life,” Deb Dingus, Executive Director of the United Way of Licking County said. “They are coming sometimes out of incarceration, out of treatment facilities.”
“If you never wore those shoes- most of my people don’t have shoes!” Donna Gibson, who leads a program called “Bridges out of Poverty,” said. “I don’t really like the word poverty. I think it sounds like a disease. But ultimately, that’s what they’re struggling with.”
Mary Conners knows that struggle, along with scourge of addiction.
“I’ve been a year and four months clean now. And I feel a lot better,” she said. “I don’t miss it, will not go back to it.”
Almost as tough as beating addiction, she said, was finding someone to give her a second chance.
“I went almost eight and a half months trying to get a job and everybody turning me away,” Conners said.
“Many of them have backgrounds that make it difficult for employers to want to hire them,” Dingus said.
Dingus said it was a conversation with the owners of Accel’s ‘Beauty Park’ in New Albany that sparked an idea.
Accel needed workers, and Dingus knew people in Newark who needed work. The challenge would be transportation.
“We’ll help you get employees if you can get us a bus,” Dingus said.
And so they did, and “Buses for Hope” was born.
Every day, dozens of employees are shuttled to and from work. Local churches even pitch in with sack lunches for everyone.
Conners calls the bus a lifeline.
“Without the bus, I wouldn’t have this job,” she said.
Gibson said in the few months since the program started, some workers have already received promotions and raises.
“Seeing moms get their kids back, seeing people get a job,” Gibson said. “This is worth it. Our people are worth it.”
“We’re not solving all the problems, but we think it’s a good start,” Dingus said.
The United Way of Licking County says because of the strong response, they are working on adding a second bus.