Susan Jacobs is the driving force behind Wheels of Success, a non-profit providing cars to the working poor.
Building and growing Wheels of Success, Jacobs has helped more than 1,300 families since 2003. She says her mission is to help low-income families by providing them with reliable transportation. It’s no small thing when you consider statistics that the average working-poor family in Tampa spends 40% of its income on transportation costs versus 24.6% for the general population.
“I was someone who needed this assistance years ago”, explained Jacobs. “I left a domestic violence situation…without my stuff, other than what I could throw into storage… a stranger helped me… he couldn’t believe that I was hitchhiking to work.”
That admission that comes as a shock to many in the Bay area. Jacobs is well-known, passionate, independent and celebrated. She has enough community awards and recognitions to fill the ABC Action News newsroom. CNN’s 2009 Hero, Tampa Bay Lightning’s Community Hero during 2011 – 2012 hockey season, and 2014 Be More Winner are just a few of her honors. Her status as a survivor of domestic violence is not part of the equation, but is part of the reason she founded Wheels of Success. It’s the shame from her past that inspired Jacobs to create this non-profit turning a bad situation into a blessing for others.
“Survivors think they're the only ones. They're embarrassed”, says Jacobs. “They think ‘I'm educated! Why would I stay in a DV situation?’ Even though mine wasn't dramatically, physically violent, it still wore me down. Once the physical abuse starts, if you don’t walk away it’s really hard. It escalates and you're most likely to be in danger."
The logistics of leaving a violent relationship without transportation forces many DV victims to stay. Jacobs wants to change that. “I want them to know that they are not a victim. That’s just their circumstance. They can be whoever they want to be! They can leave! Usually what's holding them back is that they're tied to the abuser because they don't have a car. They can't get a job. If they have one, the abuser takes the car. They can't get the kids to school. That was a big thing for me. I want people to realize that you're not your circumstances! They're just your circumstances.”