Community Investment Fund Spotlight: Careers in Automotive Repair

Posted August 8, 2018
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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