On Friday Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro joined the County Department of Community & Family Services (DCFS) and the Dutchess County Workforce Investment Board (DCWIB) to present three local families with vehicles as part of the Community Solutions to Transportation (CST) Way to Work program, formerly known as Wheels to Work. Since 2001, the program has helped low-income Dutchess County residents get and keep a job, providing them with reliable transportation to and from work.

County Executive Molinaro said, “More than a vehicle, today’s recipients are receiving a chance at a better life, for themselves and their families. These vehicles represent a hope for the families who receive them: the ability to drive their children to doctor’s appointments and school, travel to the supermarket to buy and prepare healthy meals or obtain more or better employment. Dutchess County is proud to offer this opportunity to families who have been dedicated to improving their lives, and we look forward to counting today’s recipients among the program’s multitude of success stories.” DCFS’s helps transition residents into the workforce by including work skills training, daycare for eligible families, and through the Way to Work program provided under contract by the DCWIB. Way to Work provides vehicles from local used car dealers to eligible individuals and provides participants training – such as car care and defensive driving – as well as assistance in obtaining a learner’s permit or driver’s license. The program also offers driver experience training, car maintenance instruction, and auto repairs.

Way to Work recipients: Yermis Dominguez (Chevy), My-Asia Turner (Honda) and Brisse Smith (Volkswagen Jetta)

The vehicles provided help families obtain and retain employment, acquire jobs with more hours or higher pay, gain access to higher education to increases the recipients’ wage potential, or take their children to and from school. Families were chosen based on specific program guidelines, including their work-related need for transportation. In addition, they have all displayed the perseverance and commitment necessary to continually move forward toward financial independence. For every family that receives a car and avoids temporary assistance, Dutchess County saves $1,614 a month. Within a year, that savings equals the cost of a new car. DCFS Commissioner Sabrina Jaar Marzouka said, “Each of the families receiving a pre-owned vehicle today has earned it, having invested the time and effort to make today a reality for them — countless hours of dedication and sacrifice to ensure they’d qualify for this chance at a new life. We have seen the unparalleled success of this program, as since its inception, 90 percent of vehicle recipients have remained independent from temporary assistance, and we look forward to helping more qualified and motivated residents improve their own lives and the lives of their loved ones.”

Dutchess County Community Solutions for Transportation has benefited more than 3,500 families since 2001, providing 909 cars, including several vehicles donated to local veterans, along with registration and car insurance deposits. In 2020, 45 residents participated in the program, receiving driving lessons, financial literacy and vehicle maintenance, among other components. Among today’s recipients is a single mother, raising her teenage daughter and two toddlers, who works full-time to support the family. Since she lives in the Village of Millerton, with her job miles away, she needs to take her toddlers to daycare prior to work and needs transportation to do so. In addition, without a grocery store in the Village, she must rely on the generosity of co-workers for transportation to work to get her to the job site by the hours she is required to be there. Despite working a full-time job, it is difficult for this family to make ends meet. Reliable transportation will give this mother of three the opportunity to choose different shifts, to look for promotions, and to shop for groceries at stores other than convenience stores.

Since the former Wheels to Work program began in 2001, 311 Dutchess County residents have received their New York State learner’s permit; 1,045 people participated in driving experience classes; 500 individuals completed the five-hour, pre-licensing class; 489 passed their state road test and received a driver’s license; and 750 vehicle repairs were approved on behalf of program participants. DCWIB Chair Sheila Appel said, “There is nothing more rewarding than knowing you have the independence to take care of your family. With our Way to Work program, we know this is the hand-up to help individuals garner the independence that many take for granted – a means to have reliable transportation. Whether getting to and from a job, taking your children to appointments or just being able to go to the grocery store, it all boils down to self-sufficiency. I am proud that we have partnered with the county in helping find our neighbors reliable transportation to make life just a little easier.”

From left to right: Yermis Dominguez, My-Asia Turner and Brisse Smith each earned a vehicle through the Dutchess County Way to Work program and celebrate with Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro, Dutchess County Community & Family Services Commissioner Sabrina Jaar Marzouka and Dutchess County Workforce Investment Board (DCWIB) Executive Director Louise McLoughlin.