Local companies help students hit the road

By Sarah Baum

Kansas City is a car town. Imagine being a single parent without a car or a driver’s license, struggling to keep a well-paying job, accessing quality childcare, or buying your groceries. Solving daily transportation problems at the last minute is time consuming and can derail the best of intentions. Such parents often find themselves relying on unreliable friends or family members. Public transportation schedules often lead to multi-hour commutes with long walks to a final destination.

Eight out of every ten students in The Grooming Project begin their training with one or several concerns related to their transportation: a suspended or expired driver’s license, outstanding or unpaid fees, fines, or warrants related to their driving record, an unreliable vehicle, and/or a lack of funds for car repairs, insurance, or registration.

Barbie Daniels, Senior Case Manager, understands how students become trapped in a downward spiral that removes their ability to drive legally, continue earning income, and provide care for their families. Simple mistakes for families living in poverty easily lead to tickets, unpaid fees, suspended licenses, warrants, and unemployment. A lack of money, or other social and financial support, prevents students from making payments and addressing their outstanding legal concerns in a timely fashion. The need to drive remains constant, but the legal and financial consequences to driving illegally multiply.

Barbie identifies and begins tackling transportation challenges before a student arrives for their first day of school. She helps students plan to arrive consistently and on time each day for training. Students are coached to believe in teamwork. She wants them to have faith, to trust that by working with her they will address lingering transportation problems and move forward. She insists that past mistakes do not have to define who a student is today nor limit the plans they’re creating for tomorrow.

Barbie keeps a calendar of the upcoming court dates for students and accompanies them to court to resolve or ease their outstanding issues and cases. She recruits attorneys to provide pro bono services to assist students in navigating the court systems. Being in court is often a stressful and intimidating experience for students with complicated legal issues, but Barbie advocates for students to graduate with their driving problems in the rear-view mirror.

Recently, Barbie joined a student at her court date, accompanied by a pro bono attorney, to address unresolved legal issues related to the student’s driving record. The issues could prevent the student from securing their best job prospect at graduation. The student’s case was lengthy and complicated, but the discussion with the judge was friendly as they considered an acceptable path forward that pleased both the judge and the student. The case is now removed from the court calendar, and costs to the court system were reduced. The student goes forward with a plan to remove outstanding warrants and pay reduced fines and also includes diversion, community service, and a path to obtaining a driver’s license.

Barbie explains, “The judges want to close their cases and we help them do that. We make the case for the student to be out of the courts and to go forward. It can be a very cooperative process.”

In addition to resolving legal issues and securing a reliable car, Barbie and other staff work closely with students to develop a realistic financial plan for transportation costs. “I tell them, it’s not just what the car costs. It’s the tags, insurance, tires, gas, future repairs. I want them ready!”

Propelling students includes not just The Grooming Project’s staff but also generous volunteers, a team that works together as moving parts of the same wheel.

Kevin Kruse at Cottman Transmission has been a steady such volunteer, do it all. We need others. Assistance from others is what makes life happen.”

Dan and Auburn Steiner at Savior Auto are proud of their family-owned business selling used cars and their ability to provide critical support to students. Dan finds satisfaction in helping students obtain cars and understands that a safe, operable vehicle can take a life to the next level, enabling women to provide for their families by getting to work consistently.

Dan describes Barbie as a good friend, and some of the students have also become his friends. He sees them in church and feels they share a goal of helping to rebuild lives. He remembers his own struggles as a single parent taking three buses each day when his son was born.

Dan shares, “I know these women, they’re almost sufficient but need one more thing, a car. Lots of people don’t understand how folks put themselves in a bad place. Sometimes it was one bad decision or abuse or something completely out of their control. Helping someone that’s helping themselves, that’s where I relate. What better way for us to do that than to meet them in this excellent program.”

He adds, “I’ve been taught along the way, practice generosity. That’s my goal.”


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