Over the past six years, the age of the average collision repairer has increased to 38.7 years old, which means many repairers will be retiring in the near future. In turn, this creates a dire need for entry-level repairers, and in anticipation of this crisis, the Collision Repair Education Foundation has taken the proactive step of supporting training programs for future repairers. Brandon Eckenrode, Director of Development, believes this is imperative because “the more actively engaged the industry can be with the high school and college collision programs, instructors and students, the brighter the industry’s future will be.”
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Established in 1991 to develop, promote and distribute a curriculum program to ensure entry-level employees received training on needed skills, the Education Foundation continued to sell curriculum and provide educational support through various programs, such as CRIN and the Training Alliance, until 2008 when curriculum sales and support moved to I-CAR, allowing the Foundation to focus exclusively on acquiring and distributing donations to schools and students in the form of scholarships and grants. Now, the Foundation is a purely philanthropic organization with the sole purpose of raising money to support and educate future collision repairers. Though I-CAR still plays a key role in allowing the Foundation to operate as a four-person organization, they changed their name in 2010 to distinguish their organization from I-CAR as a way of clarifying that I-CAR training tuition fees do not support the Education Foundation.
Their mission is “to secure donations that support philanthropic and collision repair education activities that promote and enhance career opportunities in the industry.” According to Eckenrode, “it’s a full circle from support to staff- the collision industry provides monetary and in-kind donations to the Foundation, which are then distributed to high school/college collision programs, and these donations help assist in providing the best technical education possible for the students, and then these students are ideally hired into the industry.”
The Education Foundation’s current goal is to educate the industry on who they are and who they support, in addition to getting more industry members involved in order to raise the level of support they provide. Eckenrode hopes that they will help place entry-level students in a more organized way in the future, in addition to providing a higher level of financial support. They’ve already begun to educate guidance counselors on the industry, teaching them about the great career opportunities students can find in the collision repair industry. According to Eckenrode, “through an increase in support, specifically with monetary donations, we can fill in the gaps within these instructors’ collision budgets and ensure that they have all of the proper tools, equipment and supplies needed to teach the students.”
Eckenrode is the sole full-time fundraiser for the Education Foundation, focusing his efforts on locating supporters within the industry as well as working in communications to inform the industry of the Foundation’s efforts. When asked if his work is rewarding, Eckenrode notes, “Rewarding doesn’t fully describe the work for me. I believe we are ‘facilitators of this industry’s generosity,’ and when you hear instructors get choked up because you were able to send them a box of safety glasses for his/her students or get to inform a student that they are the recipient of a $5000 scholarship, it makes you proud of our industry for making that possible.”
Eckenrode fondly recalls their Cintas technician shirt project when they provided promotional shirts to students attending NACE several years ago. The project led to the distribution of nearly 10,000 shirts, and he has been amazed to hear how this “uniform” has transformed students’ attitudes, giving them a sense of professionalism and pride. As such, he hopes to expand the program even further.
Melissa Marscin serves as the Foundation’s Director of Grant Programs, distributing the donations received, whether those donations are in-kind product donations, school grants or scholarships. Distribution plays a vital role in their mission as they strive to ensure that received support is distributed where it is most needed; their application process is critical in providing information on where support is needed and what exactly the need is.
Marscin says, “I have the best job in the world because I am able to give out scholarships and grant funds to deserving schools and students. And the best part is that I am able to directly see that my work is helping to improve the collision programs which, in turn, help to produce better entry-level technicians for the industry. It is extremely rewarding to have a student or instructor call me and say ‘thank you’… you really never realize how much of a difference you are making until you receive those notes and speak to the instructors or students in person, and then hear how the Foundation has changed their life.”
When Marscin was asked for an example of a rewarding experience, she said, “my favorite story is one about a recent $3 million donation to the schools which included basic things like sandpaper. The donation came late in the school year, and one of the instructors who received the items said he literally had no budget left for supplies this year, and he was worrying about how he would finish out the school year. Then, this box of materials showed up, and he said he felt like he won our $50,000 grant! It’s amazing what a difference a small item like sandpaper means to schools, especially with their budget challenges. The Education Foundation has been called Santa more than once, and it is always a great feeling to see that we are making a difference.”
The Collision Repair Education Foundation receives donations from industry supporters nationwide, and both products and monetary donations are then distributed to high schools, technical schools and college collision programs, instructors and students in all 50 states. All segments of the collision repair industry, and any outside entity as well, are invited to donate products and scholarship money to the Foundation. Eckenrode encourages such donations; “donated tools, equipment, supplies, and other materials greatly assist collision school instructors who are working with very minimal budgets. In 2012, we raised a record $4.9 million, and we are tracking slightly above (3%) that amount half way through 2013 so far.”
In 2013, 126 schools applied for the Foundation’s “Ultimate Collision Education Makeover” grant, a huge increase from the 72 applications submitted last year. Marscin believes this grant is very important because “as school budgets continue to decrease, schools need a way to supplement their budgets, and the Makeover is a perfect solution to this. The winning schools get $50,000 worth of tools, supplies, and equipment for their collision program, and we have hundreds of smaller prizes to help schools get supplies to better teach their students. Every school that applies does get some donations out of this program, so it is beneficial for every collision school to apply!”
Any school offering a collision repair program is eligible for grants by filling out an annual survey that helps the Education Foundation collect important data on trends and statistics within the industry.
According to Eckenrode, “the Collision Repair Education Foundation plays a vital role within the industry as we are supporting its future professionals. The more actively engaged the industry can be with the high school and college collision school programs, instructors and students, the brighter the industry’s future will be… Supporting the schools, instructors and students is vital, but we also need to collectively do a better job in showcasing this industry as a great career choice to students/ parents at an early stage in their education.”
It’s easy to make a monetary, tax-deductible donation or in-kind product donation. Simply visit the Foundation’s website, or email Eckenrode who invites “any and all industry members to reach out to us to help them find a collision school program in their area and get involved. The industry taking an active role with their local schools assists in these students being able to graduate as efficient, productive entry-level workers.”
Why would a collision repair facility want to support the Collision Repair Education Foundation? Eckenrode’s answer is simple; “to donate to the Foundation is a re-investment in the industry’s future.”
Collision Repair Education Foundation
5125 Trillium Boulevard
Hoffman Estates, IL 60192