Oraia Reid is the Co-Founder and Executive Director Of Right Rides, a service that offers women, transgender and gender queer individuals a free, safe, late night ride home on Saturday nights from 11:59 PM – 3 AM, early Sunday morning in 45 NYC neighborhoods.

1. What inspired you to start Right Rides?
RightRides was founded in the summer of 2004 in direct response to an increase in sexual assault of women walking home by themselves in North Brooklyn neighborhoods. Outraged by the attacks in our community, Co-Founder Consuelo Ruybal and I mobilized quickly to combat the disempowering threats to women’s physical safety and to assert their right to freedom of mobility. Using our own car, we began offering women free, late night rides home, in just three neighborhoods: Williamsburg and Greenpoint in North Brooklyn and the Lower East Side in Manhattan.

In 2006, Right Rides for Women’s Safety secured a vehicle sponsorship with Zipcar, enabling RightRides volunteers to operate the donated vehicles; this partnership also allowed RightRides to significantly expand the service area and number of riders served. RightRides now serves women, transgender (both male and female identified) as well as gender queer individuals. To date, RightRides has driven nearly 2,000 Riders safely home, now operates in 45 neighborhoods across four boroughs, thanks to 135 driving team volunteers operating up to six Zipcars. Nearly 35% of our volunteers are former riders, making RightRides a community-led success.

2. How did you initially finance RightRides? grants? loans? savings?
Our overhead was really low the first few years so we kept our expenses to a minimum. Consuelo mostly financed RightRides with her savings; we also got a business credit card for larger purchases. I have years of event planning/promoting/booking experience – so I organized benefit concerts and dance parties, which helped offset our expenses. We also were blessed with incredible media attention from the start, which also helped foster individual donations. These donations really helped sustain RightRides in the early years, until we received 501(c)(3) status and could apply for foundation grants.

3. How has the economy affected fundraising for Right Rides?
We’ve seen a significant decrease in our individual donations via PayPal and by check, and we didn’t get any support from city government for fiscal year 2009, as we have in previous years. To make up for the difference, we’re increasing the scope of our benefit events this year (it’s also our fifth anniversary!) and we will apply to a broader range of foundations this year.

4. Are there any plans to expand your nonprofit to other cities?
Yes, we’re seeking established nonprofit organizations working within the women’s rights, anti-violence and/or LGBTQ sectors to enter into a partnership with us, in order to foster RightRides chapters in other cities. We’re currently in early-stage negotiations with organizations in Boston and DC; I hope these chapters will become operational in 2009. We’ve received requests to foster chapters from all over the world – and many, many requests from individuals in major US cities. Our goal is to first find the right nonprofit partners and then strategically expand this important service.

5. Has running a nonprofit made you more money-conscious?
It has! Although I have (corporate) operations management experience and have overseen six figure budgets, running a nonprofit is akin to a constant meet-the-numbers game: stretching every dollar much further than I ever thought possible. I’ve become very conscious that a $25 donation can and does go a long way. For RightRides, $25 covers the cost of one volunteer driver, who will go on to take between 25-40 riders safely home in the duration they will volunteer for RightRides. In my experience, $25 to the average corporation just doesn’t resonate in that way.

6. How long have you and your partner been together? Do you always see eye-to-eye on finances?
Consuelo and I were a couple for 5 ½ years and even though we’re no longer together, we’re still working on RightRides together (She’s the Chair of the Board of Directors). I think we do see eye-to-eye on RightRides finances! I’ve been able to penny-pinch every dollar and essentially foster annual surplus for the organization every year, which has been reinvested into the organization – enabling us to hire staff and quickly grow our programs. Consuelo has been an incredible support, as I’ve lead and managed RightRides growth.

7. When you were a kid, did you get an allowance?  What would you buy?
I did for a few years until I was old enough to get a job when I was 13. My allowance just covered my lunch money and every now and then, I’d save up for the movies.

8. What is the one personal item that you always splurge on?
I love funky boots and heels, but I only buy what I’ve fallen in love with – no more random purchases. Right now I’m actually saving up to travel – that would be a big splurge for me!

9. What is one thing that you feel is always overpriced?
I hate spending money in a salon, as I think it’s really overpriced, but I’ve grown out of dying my hair in the tub, so I treat myself to a salon visit every 6 weeks. At least I “save money” by cutting my own hair, instead of paying for that too!

10. If money can’t buy happiness, what can it buy?
Food, shelter, travel, education.

More about Oraia Reid
With over a decade of grassroots organizing experience, Oraia is committed to empowering communities on behalf of LGBTQ, socio/political justice, and women’s rights issues with a focus on ending sexual assault.

Serving as the Executive Director of RightRides For Women’s Safety, Oraia has been instrumental in launching the organization from vision to operations and significant growth, by overseeing strategic and programmatic development, public relations, fund development, along with community and sponsorship relations.

Under her direction, RightRides has received awards, community recognition and press coverage. She is also sought for speaking engagements at conferences about her experiences as a young activist, community leader and social entrepreneur.

Recently, Oraia completed executive education certificates from Harvard Business School in Performance Measurement for Effective Management of Nonprofit Organizations, and from Columbia Business School’s Institute for Not-For-Profit Management, certificate of Middle Management. She is also a 2007 Junior Fellow at the Nonprofit Leadership Development Institute at the United Way of New York City.

Read other Queercents interviews in the Ten Money Questions archive.

Editor’s note: If you’re interested in giving to this cause, Nichelle Stephens set up a fundraising page at FirstGiving.com.