You think you’ve found what you’ve been looking for: an experienced floor manager who’s available to work second shift. But when you invite them to an in-person interview, they decline.
Turns out, the battery in their car is dead, and they’ve been stranded at their rural home for days because they don’t have money to buy a new one. They want the job and have the skills, but they don’t have a way to get there.
Community Foundation of the Ozarks Inc. has a solution, announced Dec. 8 during an event at Penmac Staffing Services Inc.
CFO has established the Let’s Get to Work Fund to support workers and job seekers who face transportation barriers that affect their ability to get hired or to maintain their current jobs.
The fund opens with a $375,000 commitment from the CFO, donors David and Stacey O’Reilly, and the O’Reilly Charity Golf Classic Fund, plus another $25,000 in anticipated commitments.
According to CFO officials, the funds can be used for such transportation needs as car repairs, new tires, gas cards, licensing fees or taxes, bus passes, ride-sharing services or taxis, the purchase or repair of bikes or e-bikes, and vehicle purchase down payments.
There are two ways the fund can provide support for both employed and unemployed people with transportation needs: Case managers for nonprofit agencies can apply through CFO, or businesses can access funds through a partnership with United Way of the Ozarks and the Springfield Business Development Corp., a nonprofit subsidiary of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce.
CFO President Brian Fogle said the three biggest barriers to employment are workplace flexibility, which only employers can address; child care; and transportation issues.
“One thing we can focus on to make a difference is the transportation barrier,” he said.
He noted the Let’s Get to Work Fund looks at all options for transportation, from fixing a car to paying for a trip via Uber or Lyft to buying a bicycle or scooter.
“The ultimate goal is to get people back into this tremendous opportunity because of the workforce and demand for labor right now,” he said. “Wages are rising. I think it’s a once-in-a-generation opportunity to get people back to work at good wages where they can improve their economic situation. We need to take advantage of this opportunity.”
Unemployment is at a near-historic low of 2.4% in Springfield’s five-county metropolitan statistical area, with an estimated 4,000-person net reduction in the local workforce since July. The Indeed online job search website currently lists about 11,500 job openings in Greene County.
Fogle noted that as a philanthropic agency, CFO is able to do a lot of things that government organizations cannot to help workers and employers find each other.
“Lots of times our money is a lot more flexible and easier to access,” he said. “We want this to be easy, simple, accessible and responsive. I think we’ve accomplished that.”
Sally Payne, Springfield’s director of Workforce Development, said clients of the Missouri Job Center already are lined up to benefit from the fund.
“This is a game-changer for some of our clients,” she said. “As someone who works with clients on a daily basis, I can tell you that transportation is a barrier to many. This could change people’s lives.”
Payne commended the community for bringing the fund to fruition.
“Transportation is one of those issues and barriers to employment – and, frankly, quality of life – that no one entity will be able to resolve,” she said. “It’s impressive for a whole community to come together and really look at this issue and try to move the needle in a positive way.”
Payne said many people don’t understand the ramifications of generational poverty. She spoke to Springfield Business Journal from a youth conference, where a teen talked about seeing her mother put 50 cents’ worth of gas in her car while all around, others were filling their tanks.
“It sounds very simple – well, what’s the problem; can’t you put $5 in? For some people, they can’t,” she said.
“For some people, it’s making a choice between food and gas. That’s what a lot of people deal with, and sometimes I don’t think we realize how deep that goes.”
Those present at the fund’s launch event had a chance to meet two people who exemplify the program’s objectives. Lauren Madison works in administration and accounting at Mercy Hospital Springfield, which is within walking distance of her home, but she recently had a chance to begin working two days a week at Mercy’s hospital in Ozark. Madison doesn’t have a car, but she takes a taxi to and from work at a cost of $17.90 each way.
Starting in January, Madison will be working 40 hours per week in Ozark, and she is thrilled – she told the crowd she loves working with all of the different people she encounters at her job. The new fund can help her meet her expenses until she is able to get a car of her own.
“I’m trying to come back to my life and be successful and put it all together,” she said.
Timothy Conley also spoke. He works in property maintenance, and Penmac takes him to work and back in a van.
Conley said he is rebuilding his life and career after experiencing trauma, self-medicating with alcohol and subsequently recovering.
“I got a good job with really good pay,” he said. “It basically saved my life.”
Fogle found inspiration in Madison and Conley’s stories.
“There’s meaning in work, and there’s fulfillment,” he said. “There are thousands of Tims and Laurens out there. This is why we’re here.”
Residential eligibility for this funding will cover the 14-county area of southwest Missouri where the service areas of the CFO and United Way of the Ozarks overlap: Barry, Christian, Dallas, Douglas, Greene, Hickory, Laclede, Lawrence, Polk, Stone, Taney, Texas, Webster and Wright counties.
County lockup comes in on time and under budget.