Skip to Main Content
CFO Stories

Let’s Get to Work Fund: Stories of Impact

Getting a job is less complicated than getting to it when transportation is a challenge

Philanthropy Goes to Work

Let’s Get to Work Fund: Helping the workforce by helping each other

For folks with unreliable transportation, roadblocks in getting to work begin before they even hit the road.

Such a reality presents a problem for both employees — from an income perspective — and employers, who need workers in this tight labor market. And it’s an issue facing many individuals throughout the Ozarks.

One person who knows that firsthand is Laura Baker, a Springfield resident faced with challenges in getting to work after her previous shared transportation became unavailable.

Through the “Let’s Get to Work” grant program, that isn’t the case now. The program helped provide funding for a down payment so she could purchase a vehicle.

“I needed a car and this came at the right time,” says Baker. “The program helped me immensely and without it, I would not have had a car.”

Launched by the Community Foundation of the Ozarks in late 2021, LGTW helps remove barriers related to transportation through grants made to nonprofit agencies, which, in turn, support eligible expenses for current workers and people who could work if they had reliable transportation.

The LGTW fund supports needs such as car repairs, new tires, gasoline cards, licensing fees or taxes, transportation services such as bus passes, ride-sharing services, taxis, purchase or repair of bikes/e-bikes, or vehicle purchase down payments.

Lgtw laura baker 16x9 1

Without a reliable ride to work, Laura Baker was at risk of losing her job at Select Brands in Springfield. But after receiving assistance through the Let’s Get to Work Fund to purchase a new-to-her vehicle, she was not only able to keep her job but earn a promotion as well. Her employer worked with the Springfield Business Development Corporation to provide the assistance.

In Baker’s case, her employer, Select Brands, worked with the Springfield Business Development Corporation, an arm of the Springfield Area Chamber of Commerce, to access funds to help employees who were at risk of losing work due to transportation-related barriers.

The vehicle also gave her the reliability to advance her career, where she moved from packer to machine operator.

“I wasn’t a machine operator until after I got the car,” says Baker. “I’m just so grateful that they were able to help.”

Baker is among the individuals served by LGTW, thanks to gifts by David and Stacey O’Reilly, the O’Reilly Charity Golf Classic Fund, Bass Pro Shops, the Jeannette L. Musgrave Foundation, an anonymous donor and other generous donors, along with $250,000 from the CFO’s reserves.

As of June 2022, $595,000 has been distributed through the fund.

Another person benefiting from that funding is Trish Thiesen. As manager of a gas station in Buffalo, Thiesen deals with the business of driving — but was personally challenged by the reliability of her 18-year-old vehicle with more than 300,000 miles.

“I don’t work very far from home, but me and my kid, we couldn’t go anywhere. Because it wasn’t reliable. It was breaking down all the time,” says Thiesen. “We weren’t able to go to Springfield, which is just 30 minutes away, or anywhere without me worrying that my car would break down, and I’d have my kid on the side of the road.”

Lgtw portraits 2

Through a grant from the Let’s Get to Work Fund, Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation helped Trish Thiesen purchase a more reliable vehicle.

Other travel for work was also out of the question, such as an out-of-state trip for an annual food show attended by gas station representatives.

“My manager offered to let me go last year. I couldn’t go,” she says. “I didn’t have any way of going.”

Things, however, were different this year. Funds granted through the LGTW program to Ozarks Area Community Action Corporation went for Thiesen’s down payment and sales tax on a new-to-her vehicle that has not only given her reliable transportation, but improved her quality of life.

“I don’t have to worry that I’m going to break down and have to walk the rest of the way to work,” she says. “I even drove to Ohio for my job and didn’t have a bit of trouble.

“It’s just been the biggest blessing ever.”

Similar sentiments are shared by Jack Bales, who recently purchased a vehicle with support from House of Hope, which received a grant from the LGTW program.

Bales has experienced rocky periods in his life, including periods of homelessness and mental health challenges, leading to loss of employment and transportation. He eventually moved to the Branson area in 2011, but a low credit score and a prior vehicle repossession made things difficult when it came to getting around town.

Lgtw portraits 1

With assistance from the Let’s Get to Work Fund through Branson-based House of Hope, Jack Bales was able to purchase a new vehicle and maintain his employment at the Track Family Fun Parks.

“In Branson, they don’t have a transportation system here,” he says. “So pretty much if you don’t have transportation, then you have to go where you go on foot.”

He eventually did purchase a vehicle, but it turned out to have many problems that required expensive ongoing maintenance — a difficult reality while making minimum wage.

“I was paying rent and utilities along with what I was having to pay out-of-pocket for repairs. I’d say I’d spent close to over $20,000 over a four- or five-year period of time trying to keep it running,” Bales says of his vehicle. “I was always living in poverty. Always just struggling from one day to the next.”

While working at The Track, a tourist attraction on the Highway 76 Strip, Bales finally got the vehicle paid off. Then, an accident occurred, followed by transmission trouble.

At just the right moment, Bales says, LGTW helped cover most of a down payment on a different vehicle.

“It pretty much saved my life,” he says. “I would not be able to drive anywhere; I’d be on foot. See, I’m 68 years old. So, I would not last very long if I didn’t have the transportation.

“I tell everybody about how grateful and thankful I am that the grant was able to help me get past that roadblock.”

By Kaitlyn McConnell, writer in residence for the Community Foundation of the Ozarks · This story is featured in the summer 2022 edition of Passion & Purpose: The CFO Magazine.

Give to the LGTW Fund Learn More

Support our mission by becoming a donor today.

Donate Now