Lucas County commissioners threw their support Tuesday behind efforts of the Toledo Community Coalition to get low-income teenagers legally licensed and behind the wheel of vehicles.
The coalition received $15,000 in funding from the commissioners to support a pilot program to provide driver education instruction to income-eligible teenagers, ages 15 to 18.
The Youth Driving School Program will improve youngsters’ chances of getting jobs by enrolling them in a private driving school through which they get the needed requirements for valid driver’s licenses, said Bernard “Pete” Culp, a member of the Toledo-Lucas County Port Authority board and innovator of the program.
“I think it can be successful and perhaps we can convince officials to put it back in the school system,” Mr. Culp said. “I think people will be surprised at the impact this will have.”
Mr. Culp’s idea for the program took shape in meetings of the Coalition and The Blade’s Changing Minds Changing Lives anti-racism partnership, which has sponsored two community forums on racism and this month is kicking off a series of Dialogue for Change small-group discussions throughout the community.
The commissioners’ contribution and a $35,000 grant the Port Authority approved in December are being used to pay for the pilot program, which is administered by the Frederick Douglass Community Association.
Mr. Culp said he and other coalition members noticed a trend in young males of having criminal records for convictions they got for driving without valid licenses, hindering their efforts to get jobs.
“What we think is going to happen is this will cut down on the crime,” he said. “This will also prove that you don’t have to be in a gang to get something done.”
Sonya Williams, executive director of the community association at 1001 Indiana Ave., who previously supervised a driver’s education program at a school in Arizona, is in charge of the program. It will start on March 11 with 25 youngsters.
Commissioner Tina Skeldon Wozniak said the program is a step in “making sure our youth had every opportunity to find and keep employment.”
“Enhanced access to transportation has been a barrier to finding a job,” she said. “Reliable transportation is a big part of that equation.”
Mr. Culp said the idea for the program sprang from talking to teenagers who told them stories about friends and relatives being denied access to jobs in police, fire, and other city departments because they didn’t have a valid driver’s license.
Mrs. Williams, who has been at the center since September, 2012, said the funding will allow up to 50 teenagers to enroll in the three-week driver education program operated by All-Star Driver Education.
She said students who are at least 15½ years old and have obtained a temporary license permit and meet the federal poverty guidelines will be eligible. They also must have a parent or guardian willing to provide the 50 hours of monitored driving that is required by the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles.
“We are expecting to have a greater number of students applying then there is room for. Because there needs to be some priorities established, we are looking for students who will be the most successful,” she said.
Mrs. Williams said information and applications for the program will be available on the community association’s Web site at fdcatoledo.org.
Contact Mark Reiter at: email@example.com or 419-724-6199.