It seemed like everyone close to Meighan Cole had somewhere important to go and no way to get there. Cole’s grandmother suffered a stroke and needed rides to doctor’s appointments. The transportation available to her was limited by route, town borders, or required several days’ notice to book and filled up quickly. Many times, she had to forego crucial visits.
Cole ran an in-home daycare center at the time and parents, mostly single-mothers, would ask if she provided transportation to and from school. She didn’t. But she soon realized it was a service she could provide.
She says that seeing the world through the eyes of a foster child-—her biological parents lost custody of her when she was 8 years old-—taught her that giving back to the community was the best thing she could ever do in her life. At 34, Cole, a single-mother, is president and CEO of Operation Drive, NFP, an Oswego-based non-profit she founded that provides non-emergency transportation to under-served individuals and families, in areas where service is unavailable or limited. Riders find her through organizations she partners with, social service agencies and schools.
Cole says the purpose of their programs is to save lives, and to prevent isolation and health deterioration.
“We’re not a public transit system,” she says. “We’re the fill-in-the-gap service.” Her territory covers the counties of DuPage, Kane, Kendall and parts of Cook.
She gives “the forgotten population” – homeless children, the elderly, individuals with disabilities, low-income families and veterans – rides to and from doctor appointments, food pantries, grocery stores, jobs, school and social service agencies that provide much-needed services.
“Walk by faith and not by sight” is her motto, which, she says, means “things that are unseen, are possible.” She learned it by watching her grandmother selflessly care for the family.
“I never thought in a million years, after struggling with transportation for my grandmother, that a simple ride could change someone’s entire life,” she says. “Operation Drive gives riders a renewed sense of self-worth and independence.”
Cole has provided 1,372 rides across 92,000 miles, since the program began in March 2014.
The program started with a budget of $10,000 and $7,000 of that was used to provide rides and equipment. The remaining $3,000 was used for web, advertising and employees pay.
“She’s always there with the drivers picking up the kids on time and that’s all I ask for,” says Mark Engen, transportation director for West Aurora School District #129. Cole delivers homeless students to and from school for him. She also covers after-school activities that let out at dinnertime.
You can help move Operation Drive forward by making a donation or joining its board of directors. For more information look here.
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