NORFOLK, Neb. (KCAU) – North Fork Area Transit (NFAT) has met a $500,000 fundraising goal and will receive a matching $500,000 grant so the organization can restart operations.

The non-profit transit service in Norfolk said in a Wednesday release that it reached the local fundraising goal of $500,000 in the month of February and will receive a matching gift of $500,000 from the Johnny Carson Foundation. The fundraising will go to help the transit agency pay off debt, hire drivers and get their vehicles back on the road.

Earlier in February, the Johnny Carson Foundation agreed to provide a $500,000 matching grant to the transit agency if it could raise $500,000.

“We are so grateful to our community and the Johnny Carson Foundation,” Transit Board Vice President Lacy Kimes said. “The impressive show of support for public transit will make a lasting impact on many. Thank you to each and every donor who made our reopening possible.”

NFAT found itself in financial trouble after the former director of North Fork Area Transit, Jeffrey Stewart, allegedly misused more than $740,000 of NFAT’s funds. A criminal investigation was opened in December 2022. Officials said the transit agency has about $590,000 in debt and unpaid invoices.

Board Chair Traci Jeffrey also thanked the community, saying they wouldn’t have been able to restart operations without the community’s support.

“It would have been easy to give up, but the Board and members of the community wouldn’t let that happen. We’ve all seen how our community is a better place with public transportation,” Jeffrey said.

The State Mobility Management Team will help the transit service in restarting operations, the release said. The highest priority will be to help the most vulnerable in the community, so services will be focused on including TeleLift schedule and reintroducing the ForkLift bus through a more targeted approach. Service will focus on the most used routes and times that riders appreciated most.

NFAT said that there have been additional safeguards implemented by the board and will continue to implement more, such as the hiring of a local accounting firm to handle all bookkeeping operations.

The Johnny Carson Foundation is expected to issue a check immediately.