Now that county residents can ride a van between Canton and Waynesville for $1 each way with Mountain Projects, Inc., one piece of a thorny transportation issue has been solved.
A second program to address needs of those beyond the urban area route is on the horizon.
Mountain Projects is the Haywood-Jackson umbrella agency for Haywood Public Transit. Mountain Projects Executive Director Patsy Davis found that the lack of a regular public transportation route prevented many from getting to medical appointments, doing their weekly grocery shopping or even enjoying the dining and shopping opportunities in the county.
The fixed route runs hourly between 7 a.m. and 5 p.m. (soon to be extended to 7 p.m.) weekdays and is a major piece to the puzzle for easing the transportation woes of many.
However, there are still individuals who need a vehicle to get to work, but live in the outer areas of the county where no transportation service is available.
Davis works with a group in Sylva, Rolling Start, that enjoys fixing up older, donated cars and providing them to families in need of transportation.
Now, a Haywood group is in the process of offering a similar program.
Volunteers Wendy Forbes and Robin Brophy heard about the need and jumped in to help.
Forbes became immersed in local issues through her Leadership Haywood class. Once she better understood the community — and the needs — the financial advisor for Merrill Lynch was anxious to get involved.
She is friends with Jamie Beasley, the director of a Buncombe County program that accepts donated vehicles, repairs them and provides them to needy families at a cost of $500 for the vehicle, plus $103 for the tax, title and registration fee.
“I figured there was no need to reinvent the wheel,” Forbes said, “so I contacted Working Wheels, to see if we could form a partnership.”
Working Wheels already works with other communities in the greater Asheville area, and came to a committee meeting last month to explain how the program works.
“Our mission is to repair and recycle donated vehicles, transforming them into working wheels for working families,” Beasley said in an email interview. “We recognize that the need for what we are doing is greater the further out you go from Asheville. A functioning vehicle can make all the difference in a family’s ability to survive and thrive.”
Beasley said he appreciates Haywood’s proactive approach, as well as the enthusiasm he found during the meeting.
“We share the goal of helping families access dependable, affordable vehicles. It is a wonderful partnership in the making,” he said.
A key to making the program work is finding mechanics who will work to fix up the donated vehicles at a discounted price.
During a recent fundraising gala for Haywood Community College, Forbes met Jeff McCall, owner of Waynesville Tire and mentioned the program. He jumped at the chance to get involved.
“It was just a chance meeting,” he said. “When I heard about it, I thought, ‘gosh yeah,’ I certainly want to help do something like that. I think it is a super program.”
He attended the next meeting, as did Haywood County Commissioner Brandon Rogers, who owns Rogers Express Lube and Tire in Canton. Both agreed to be one of the mechanics who would help fix up the donated vehicles.
Working Wheels has already developed a memorandum of understanding for partner agencies, the application process for individuals or families applying for the vehicle program, the limited warranty agreements with successful applicants and a document stating the agency retains a lien on the program car for one year, during which time liability insurance is mandatory.
The next step is to enlist Haywood partners — and find individuals willing to donate their used vehicle.
Beasley said the short-term plan in Haywood is to establish partnerships with not only mechanics, but tow companies and potential vehicle donors.
“In the long term, we hope to keep growing the number of dependable, affordable vehicles we are able to produce for Haywood County residents who need one,” he said.
Forbes is excited an action plan is on the table and is looking forward to launching the program soon.
“This is all because of Leadership Haywood,” she said. “One person can’t do it all. It’s all about the synergy.”
She invited a number of business associates to the first meeting, including accountant Robin Brophy, who was equally excited about the effort.
Brophy’s son, Dylan, did a similar program with bicycles as part of his Eagle Scout project in Florida.
He is a cyclist, she explained, and his idea was to get donated bikes, fix them up and provide them to an orphanage. The orphanage encouraged the project to focus on bikes for older children who might need transportation to a job or to see family.
“At Christmas, they delivered a truck full of bikes with a huge bow, along with a helmet and a lock for each bike, to the orphanage,” Brophy said. “The woman told them, ‘by giving them wheels, you are giving them a life.’”
Both Forbes and Brophy strongly believe in the concept of community and giving back. Nobody is more excited about their commitment than Davis.
“What I love about this committee is that there is a lot of business people involved,” she said. “This program will fill such a need in our county.”
Beasley said it all goes as planned, the first Haywood family should have a car by January or February 2020.