Trucking hasn’t just been a job for Transport America company driver Delores Petko.
Over 30 years ago, Petko was homeless living out of a church in Columbus, Georgia, when she saw a commercial advertising a trucking school in Florida. She took a chance and reached out to the recruiter.
“I was talking to the guy and I said look, I’m homeless. I’m living in a church right now. I don’t have any money or nothing like that. He said don’t worry, can I meet up with you? So he drove from Florida all the way up to Columbus, Georgia. He came up there and talked to me,” Petko said.
The recruiter helped her fill out the application and assured her that he’d help her get grants and loans to cover the cost of her education. He explained to her that trucking was all about helping people.
“I always liked helping people. That’s the kind of person I was. If somebody needed a shirt, I’d give them the shirt off my back. That’s how I am,” Petko said.
A month passed by and Petko hadn’t heard back from the recruiter, so she was worried her application hadn’t been accepted. Then a letter came in the church mail with a note from the recruiter and a $1,500 check.
“I called him and he said congratulations, you got through — you’re going to go to college to learn how to drive a semi. My heart was just racing,” Petko said.
She used the check to buy a used Toyota Corolla and enough gas to get to the training center in Florida. The recruiter helped connect her with housing and she worked as a security guard while she went through school. After she graduated trucking school, though, she found it difficult to find a job. She was turned down by all of the recruiters who visited her school.
“I got upset because I was turned down by every one of them,” Petko said.
Frustrated, Petko got in her car and just started driving. She ended up in Las Vegas and pulled out the CB radio she kept in her car. She called out to truck drivers in the area, telling them she was desperate and looking for a trucking job. A driver responded and offered to meet with her. His friend was hiring. After a chat, Petko followed the driver to Wisconsin to work for a leased owner-operator.
“I followed the guy. He paid for all my fuel and everything else with my car. I stayed right along with him and got over to Wisconsin and started driving,” Petko said.
Petko, who now lives in Cullman, Alabama, has been driving for 30 years. She currently drives team with her husband, Ambrose Petko, for Transport America, where she has worked for the last eight years.
The process may not have been easy, but for Petko truck driving was a pathway out of homelessness. She and her husband now live out of an RV that they keep parked at a campground.
“I went from homeless to an American trucker. I went from nothing to something,” Petko said.
Trucking has become her life. She enjoys getting to see the country and travel.
“I can’t get away from it. It’s like an addiction. I enjoy it so much. I enjoy taking these loads to different states and seeing the beauty of what God has created in this world. It’s not just a job. It’s an adventure,” Petko said.
Petko believes trucking could be a good career option for other homeless individuals, if they’re willing and able to commit to it.
“I believe we could get a lot of these homeless people off the road if they’re willing to come out and have somebody help them get started driving a truck,” Petko said.
Petko credits the recruiter she first reached out to her for helping her get her foot in the industry.
“I told him, you’re a guardian angel. He was. He was a guardian angel. Everything was just falling in place for me,” Petko said.