Auto Mission: Turning Wrenches, Turning LivesPosted 10/15/2004
By Alexis Gross
Legan, though, is not into titles, saying, "I'm really here for the boys." Auto Mission, one of the missions run by members of North Pointe Baptist Church in Hurst, Texas, is only for boys. Mission Makeover, also run through North Pointe, involves girls with the Fort Worth Quilt Guild to make quilts for battered women's shelters and for newborns at the county hospital.
"It's important to keep boys and girls separate in this environment because a lot of these boys are from divorced families and they don't have a guy to talk to," said Legan. "The girls are similar in that they sometimes need a woman to talk to who's not their mother. Everyone needs someone to confide in, and if you put guys and girls this age together, they're going to act like guys and girls, and you'll never get anything serious out of them."
Getting serious is necessary, said Legan, because the organization is focused on life repair as much as auto repair.
"We have a lot of fun, but we're here to try and help them," he said. "Our No. 1 goal is to make sure they have transportation to heaven. We tell these guys that life is all about the decisions they make, and we try to help them make the right ones."
There are three kinds of boys at Auto Mission: volunteers who have never been in trouble, boys sent to the mission by municipal and teen courts to perform community service, and boys sent by the Texas Youth Commission who were incarcerated and are now on parole. "No matter why they're here," Legan said, "We treat everyone the same."
Many boys confide that their family is not "Leave it to Beaver." For most of the boys coming through the court system, it's their first time to be in trouble. However, even the repeat offenders, the drug dealers and the gang members are often just searching for a place they feel comfortable and something that they can belong to, he said.
"The first thing we do is ask what brings them here and open up a conversation," said Legan. "A lot of these kids don't have conversations with adults. They don't know how to open up. We try not to ask any question that can be answered 'yes,' 'no' or 'fine.' We try to ask questions that will get them to open up and talk to us."
After this orientation, the boys are taken through the shop, shown the tools and have procedures explained to them. The kids are then ready to work on the cars while the adults supervise and explain. The repairs they perform range from basic maintenance to total restoration. The only thing the shop can't do is automatic transmission repair and painting.
"We talk to them about life while we're working on the cars," said Legan. "We want to know what's going on with them, what happened that day and how things are at home."
Adam, 15, came to Auto Mission six months ago to do community service for a curfew violation. Now he's a volunteer.
"I used to be really into cars," he said. "I knew a lot of things about the outside, but nothing about the inside. Now I know about the engine, how to weld, how to change brake pads and set the gas tank."
Adam said he used to drink and do drugs, but hasn't touched that in months since coming to the mission. He, like other boys, has brought friends to the mission.
In addition to learning new skills and cleaning up their lives, the boys also benefit by knowing their work has meaning.
"We tell them they're not allowed to touch a car without permission while it's in the shop. We don't ever lean on cars or sit on cars or draw in the dust on cars. We treat them with a great deal of respect because it may not look like much to us, but to the woman who's getting that car, it's a real treasure," said Legan. "A lot of the guys have never really completed anything. When they see that they've done something good here, and we tell them it's going to a battered woman, they get a tremendous sense of accomplishment."
The mission operates daily, except Sunday, from 3-8 p.m. The boys show up, sign in and get to work. They work on cars for an hour, then take a break for snacks and discussion. The topic can be anything from a Bible passage to family issues, school concerns, or even how to ask a girl out on a date. Auto safety is a frequent subject.
"We talk a lot about the safety issues with cars, including speeding and maintenance" said Legan. "We stress street racing issues a lot, because they're teenage boys and they're going to want to get behind the wheel of a car and go fast."
In fact, there is one car repaired at Auto Mission that Legan says he can never part with. It's an '88 Mustang with a 5.0 engine, and Legan is sure that if he ever sells or donates the car, it will wind up in the hands of a teenager who will not be able to resist the lure of its street racing potential.
Legan uses some of the donated vehicles to illustrate the dangers of driving.
Legan began Auto Mission in January of 2004, less than a month after receiving the idea from God, he said. Since that time, the organization has received more than 50 donated cars and repaired or dismantled them with the help of more than 300 boys who have worked more than 5,000 hours. Legan sees a need for Auto Missions across the country.
"There are a lot of teenagers in trouble out there, and every teenage boy is interested in cars," Legan said.
However, he cautioned, starting such an organization takes tremendous support, strong financial backing, and a lot of faith in God.
"The legal hurdles are just tremendous," he said. "For a shop alone, it's hard to find insurance, and then you mention teenagers and volunteers and they just laugh. We went through 25 companies before we found one that agreed to insure us."
But the results are good for everyone, including the repair industry.
"We've had a whole bunch of young men that want to take the next step and enroll in technical school. They think this is something they'd like to do and we introduce them to it," Legan said. "A lot of these kids don't know that the industry is good, that it pays really well and that it's not greasy mechanics like it used to be. It's really a profession that ranks right up there with doctors and lawyers."
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