Overcoming transportation barrier: Springfield mother finally has license, vehicle of her own

·7 min read
Cori Bystrom, 28, got her driver's license in April of this year and bought her first car the following month, a 2010 Subaru with 344,000 miles.
Cori Bystrom, 28, got her driver's license in April of this year and bought her first car the following month, a 2010 Subaru with 344,000 miles.

Over the summer, Cori Bystrom's youngest son was playing outside their apartment and accidentally stepped on a discarded piece of glass.

She was able to scoop up the bleeding boy, place him in her car, and quickly drive him to the emergency room.

The instinct-driven response would not have been possible weeks earlier, when she did not have a car.

"I didn't have to call a family member or a friend. I didn't have to call an ambulance and rack that bill up. I didn't have to go around and knock on a million doors, just to see if someone will answer, to give me a ride to the ER," she said. "Just to be able to load up my kid and take him to the ER was a blessing."

Bystrom, now 28, was not able to get her driver's license until late April of this year. She bought her first car the following month.

"This year has been absolutely amazing for me. I've overcome so many challenges this year," she said. "It's mind-blowing."

It is a welcome change after more than a decade of navigating Springfield without a car of her own.

She walked, took public transportation, and relied on friends and family to get her to and from grocery stores, jobs, and medical appointments.

"You're having to suck up a lot of courage and a lot of humility to be able to call and say 'Hey, I apologize for this, and I will give you gas money, but will you take me?'" she said. "One of my great-grandmothers actually had a deal where she would take me over to the store every two weeks and I would help her with groceries."

She added: "When I found people that I could rely on, which was few and far between, they were basically angels to me."

Bystrom said she wanted her own transportation, especially when she had children, but struggled to get enough money together.

She didn't give up, though. She credits the support of loved ones as well as help from the Drew Lewis Foundation's Reaching Independence through Support and Education program for part of what she has achieved.

Cori Bystrom, 28, got her driver's license in April of this year and bought her first car the following month, a 2010 Subaru with 344,000 miles.
Cori Bystrom, 28, got her driver's license in April of this year and bought her first car the following month, a 2010 Subaru with 344,000 miles.

The aim of the RISE program is to help families overcome the challenges that have kept them living in survival mode.

Bystrom said the program has a holistic approach. It teaches practical life skills such as budgeting, parenting, and career development with the goal of achieving stable housing, health and transportation.

The regular classes and coaching have also helped her cultivate a network of people who understand her background and know how to access resources in the community.

"They get really real with you, who you are as a person, why you're doing this, and your purpose in life," she said.

Bystrom grew up mostly in northwest Springfield in a family that she described as supportive but "very low middle class."

Asked why it took so long to get her license, Bystrom said it's complicated and "a little bit embarrassing."

More: Find Your Cause: Lack of transportation can be an obstacle to work, health and safety

Not everyone in her circle had a car, or one they were willing to loan to a teenager with a learning permit.

"Whenever it was time for me to start learning how to drive, it was an issue. There was only one car," she said of her family. "If there was an accident that I caused ... or was involved in, they would not have been able to easily repair the car or buy a new one."

As she grew up, friends with cars occasionally let her behind the wheel — she obtained a learning permit four different times — but her time driving was limited.

"I knew the rules and the laws," she said. "I just wasn't able to get the driving hours to pass the test."

She attended five different high schools. She graduated from Willard but spent the most time at Central, taking a City Utilities bus to get there and back.

Bystrom enrolled at Ozarks Technical Community College and either walked or took the city bus, taking a break after two years. "Sometimes the walks were brutal, especially in the cold."

She has worked a series of jobs, trying to make ends meet. She worked in restaurants, call centers, and picked up shifts through Penmac Staffing, a temp agency.

"With the jobs I was working, I had bills to pay and I was still very poor," she said. "So being able to save for a car was just not in the picture."

Often, if she worked later than the bus routes operated, she walked home in the dark. She had no other choice. Once she got a ticket for cutting through a park after hours but felt it was the safer option.

For years, she was a single mother to two children, now ages 7 and 9, and sometimes babysat other children. "My biggest concern was the middle of winter, if the kids got sick."

She found an apartment in northeast Springfield, within walking distance to Walmart and Aldi, and tried to find jobs as close as possible. She stretched what funds she did have as far as possible by planning meals and budgeting.

In bad weather, she arranged for rides. In good weather, she loaded her children up in a red wagon and walked to the store, sometimes crossing Glenstone Avenue.

More: Transportation barriers: Ways to help provide reliable transportation for local workers

There were times, in bad weather or when she was out of something critical like diapers or medicine, she paid a neighbor or a friend to pick up the items.

Twice, she gave someone money and they never returned. "It was really, really heartbreaking because it was all the money I had at the time."

Bystrom has a good job now with Mercy Springfield, which includes benefits. She said her mom, who has also struggled financially, secured a better job this year and offered to help her learn how to drive.

"I was finally able to take my driver's license test," she said. "The second time around, I passed it."

Not long after, she was able to buy a 2010 Subaru with 344,000 miles.

She got a sizable tax return in early 2021. That, along with a small sum from her mom — which she has since paid back — was just enough.

"It was like a weight lifted off my chest. It was freeing," she recalled. "You don't know the relief unless you've lived it — constantly worrying about how you are going to get things done, how you're going to get to your job, how you're going to get groceries or medicine for your children."

Cori Bystrom, 28, got her driver's license in April of this year and bought her first car the following month, a 2010 Subaru with 344,000 miles.
Cori Bystrom, 28, got her driver's license in April of this year and bought her first car the following month, a 2010 Subaru with 344,000 miles.

In October, Bystrom got married to her longtime boyfriend. He works in construction but does not have a vehicle of his own. His last vehicle was stolen and he has not been able to replace it, she said.

Through the Drew Lewis Foundation, she has found resources in the community to keep her vehicle running. She has also learned a lot about its care and maintenance, lessons she did not know before owning her own vehicle.

She still budgets and plans meals, but getting a car has allowed her to visit extended family in the area and do things with her children that she missed.

"I'm able to take my kids to go swimming ... I have a grandmother who lives in Willard. We're able to go see them and help them at any time," she said.

"I'm able to go on errands when they are needed instead of having to plan out a week or two weeks in advance."

Claudette Riley is the education reporter for the News-Leader. Email news tips to criley@news-leader.com.

This article originally appeared on Springfield News-Leader: Car helps Springfield mom overcome transportation barrier

Our goal is to create a safe and engaging place for users to connect over interests and passions. In order to improve our community experience, we are temporarily suspending article commenting