Community Investment Fund Spotlight: Careers in Automotive Repair

Posted August 8, 2018
By the Annie E. Casey Foundation
The Automotive Training Center helps young people enter the automotive repair industry.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation’s Atlanta Civic Site sup­ports the res­i­dent-led Com­mu­ni­ty Invest­ment Fund (CIF), which awards small grants to local lead­ers. This blog-post series high­lights how recip­i­ents used their grants to improve the lives of young peo­ple and fam­i­lies in Atlanta’s Neigh­bor­hood Plan­ning Unit V (NPU‑V).

In this post, Lar­ry With­er­spoon, co-founder and exec­u­tive direc­tor of the Auto­mo­tive Train­ing Cen­ter, shares how two CIF grants have helped expand career oppor­tu­ni­ties for young peo­ple in South­west Atlanta.

The mis­sion: The Auto­mo­tive Train­ing Center’s pri­ma­ry focus is employ­ment, because it’s the num­ber-one fac­tor in pre­vent­ing peo­ple from reen­ter­ing jail or prison. We equip young peo­ple ages 1525 who are on pro­ba­tion or at risk of incar­cer­a­tion with the skills and con­nec­tions they need to start a career in the auto­mo­tive repair indus­try. Beyond that, we work with them to instill three core val­ues: con­fi­dence, work eth­ic and a pas­sion for learning.

We want young peo­ple to leave the pro­gram with these three things and with the ener­gy to focus their minds and bod­ies on every­thing they want to accom­plish. These are smart, bright kids who just need some­one to believe in them and help them see the gifts and tal­ents they already have.

Pro­gram basics: Our eight-week entry-lev­el tech­ni­cian pro­gram helps par­tic­i­pants mas­ter every­thing from oil changes to tire replace­ments and vehi­cle inspec­tions. Young peo­ple get hands-on expe­ri­ence with real cus­tomers, and they are get­ting an oppor­tu­ni­ty to earn mon­ey while they train for big­ger career oppor­tu­ni­ties. When they com­plete the pro­gram, we con­nect them with deal­er­ships and inde­pen­dent shops in the area.

We also have a drop-in pro­gram each Mon­day night specif­i­cal­ly geared to local high school stu­dents. It’s an open learn­ing envi­ron­ment where they can come in and get trained on what­ev­er job we may be work­ing on at that par­tic­u­lar time.

Mon­ey mat­ters: The CIF grant we received in 2014 was our first grant ever. At that time, Shawn McHar­gue, the oth­er co-founder and the lead teach­ing instruc­tor, and I were still work­ing through the idea for the Auto­mo­tive Train­ing Cen­ter. That ini­tial grant fund­ing enabled us to buy the basic tools we need­ed and a trail­er to trans­port them. We’d ride around to people’s hous­es and bring the stu­dents with us to ser­vice cars. Now, we have a two-bay shop where we can ser­vice four cars at once.

We used the sec­ond CIF grant in 2018 to launch an advanced train­ing pro­gram in air con­di­tion­ing and refrig­er­a­tion ser­vice. It helped us pur­chase the equip­ment — which is very expen­sive — we now use to help stu­dents devel­op spe­cial­ized skills that make them more mar­ketable and give them the pow­er to earn more mon­ey down the line.

Evi­dence of suc­cess: We’ve trained 4050 stu­dents in the past four years. With the launch of our expand­ed pro­gram­ming, I think we will dou­ble that num­ber. These young peo­ple are full of promise, and they just need the oppor­tu­ni­ty to hone and chan­nel their tal­ents. See­ing the light­bulbs begin to go off for them is a great priv­i­lege — it makes it all worth it for me.

Shawn lives in NPU‑V, and I live next to it, so this real­ly is per­son­al for us.

The Com­mu­ni­ty Invest­ment Fund at a Glance

  • What: A Casey-fund­ed pro­gram that awards a total $50,000 in small grants, rang­ing from $500 to $5,000.
  • Who and where: res­i­dent board over­sees the fund, which is open to com­mu­ni­ty-based orga­ni­za­tions and net­works in Atlanta’s NPU‑V.
  • Why: To pro­mote com­mu­ni­ty-dri­ven change by empow­er­ing res­i­dents to tack­le com­mon neigh­bor­hood challenges.

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