Village Vans leads and carries in tough times

The small transportation program offers help and opportunity for low-income residents

By David Hubbard

Intercity Transit, a mid-size, community-minded agency operating in Olympia-Thurston County, WA, has created a bright spot for people in need during this bleak economy. The agency says its new Village Vans Program is a small transportation effort with high impact for low-income residents pursuing employment and job training.

Intercity Transit administers the program on a shoestring budget to transport qualified clients with low or no income to local destinations in pursuit of education and training, to pick up job applications, go to interviews or begin new jobs.

Using funds from federal Job Access Reverse Commute (JARC) resources to put volunteer drivers in grant funded vans, the program operates on an annual budget of approximately $149,000 and an equal amount of in-kind support.

The individualized transportation also includes trips to childcare centers, as well as clothing and food banks to help clients succeed in finding jobs and stabilizing their lives.

“Village Vans helps people get on the road to financial independence,” says Village Vans Supervisor Ann Bridges. “In addition to normal transit services, we also operate a successful customized job skills employment training program.”

She says in lieu of a paycheck, drivers in the Village Vans training program acquire invaluable professional work experience, job search coaching and skill-building lessons. “Their on-the-job employment experience enables these volunteer workers to land living wage jobs of their own,” says Bridges. “To date, 94 percent of our trainees have found successful employment.”

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Village Vans began as a pilot project in 2002 to address a major barrier for people transitioning from government aid to economic independence.

The program celebrates its eighth anniversary this month, having provided 42,382 trips, a placement success of 73 people and the strong support of 20 community service organizations, including WorkSource Thurston County, DSHS and South Puget Sound Community College. In 2009, Village Vans provided 6,373 trips, a 40 percent increase over the previous year. BR