When questioned about the reasons behind this increase in contributions to CREF, Eckenrode states “year after year, we are able to reach more and more industry businesses and help communicate to them about how we are looking to support high school and college collision school programs, instructors, and students. Knowing that these students are the future professionals of the industry, our supporters understand how their technical education is vital, and with school instructors working with limited/reduced budgets, the industry has really stepped up to support them through our organization.”
The monetary donations received in 2013 will be used to fund CREF projects, such as their scholarships for students and school grants, as well as to keep the organization running. The 2013 tallies help Eckenrode remain optimistic about CREF fundraising efforts for 2014: “we anticipate another great year with both monetary and in-kind product donations. I would invite and challenge repair facilities, especially the independent owners, to consider an annual, tax-deductible donation of $500, $750, or $1,000 to the Foundation. Through strength in numbers, if even a quarter of the total number of repair facilities were able to make this donation, we would be able to completely transform collision school programs across the country, and work towards the graduating students being properly trained and ready for entry-level work. Owners across the country have expressed their desire for productive, efficient, and ‘ready to work’ entry-level staff, and we can make this possible by all working together.”
Next up for CREF will be awarding their student scholarships and annual school makeover grants. The deadline for scholarship applications ended in the middle of February 2014, so the applications are now being reviewed by the board of trustees selection committee, and CREF plans to announce the winners in the spring of 2014. The scholarships are available to high school seniors and college-level students who have studied collision repair for at least one semester. CREF has over $200,000 reserved to be awarded as various scholarships and tool grant opportunities for students looking to enter the collision repair industry.
The deadline for the CREF School Makeover Grant is June 6, 2014, but Eckenrode encourages applicants to begin the process well ahead of time since a great deal of information is requested. He enumerates, “the Makeover application requires many different pieces of information; however, it provides our board of trustees selection committee a great overview of the program and the budget that they are working with to provide the best technical education possible for the students. Our makeover grant is available to non-profit high school and college collision school programs, and the grant is meant to help those collision programs that are facing a reduced budget and need additional tools, equipment, and supplies for their program.”
Since 2008, when the CREF began its philanthropic focus, the collision industry has provided over $20 million in various types of donations, and though CREF anticipates that this number will continue to increase over the years, Eckenrode believes “it’s important for the industry to know that, in addition to the support we are providing to schools, we are also getting actively involved in helping to bridge the gap between graduating and employment. We want to ensure that students graduate with the entry-level skill sets that employers are looking for and make these students aware of the various employment opportunities there are in all segments of the industry. By CREF providing such tools as a donor ‘entry-level employment job board’, we can not only showcase these opportunities to students, but also to parents, guidance counselors, and school administration to show that these collision programs are worthwhile to support and invest in.”
As such, Eckenrode is pleased that CREF will be presenting and exhibiting at the American School (Guidance) Counselor Association annual conference this summer, where guidance counselors from around the country will gather. During the conference, CREF plans to explain the “worthwhile career opportunities collision students have within this industry and why guidance counselors shouldn’t think badly about a technical education for students.”
This summer, CREF will also be busy with their 13th Annual Summer Golf Fundraiser on July 31, 2014, in conjunction with Industry Week in Detroit, MI. The event will take place at the Northville Hills Golf Club outside the city, and CREF anticipates “another sold out crowd with funds being raised going towards assisting us in supporting high school and college collision school programs, students, and instructors. The event has gone from raising $19,000 in 2009 to averaging $75,000 in 2012 and 2013. CREF has tried raising the quality of the event year after year; however, this increase in funds raised has been made possible by our sponsors and attendees.”
The funds raised at the golfing event will aid CREF in providing student scholarships and school makeover grants in the future. In addition to offering a nice afternoon of golfing, fun, and networking, CREF sees the event as a chance to “communicate to industry leaders about how we are making a different in collision school programs.”
Eckenrode encourages anyone interested in participating in the golf fundraiser as a player or sponsor to contact him as soon as possible as the event has historically sold out months in advance. Those who are unable to attend can still participate by purchasing golf balls for the CREF helicopter golf ball drop. Up to 1,200 numbered balls can be purchased to be dropped onto a course green via helicopter during the event. Whoever purchases the ball that lands in the hole will win 23 percent of the proceeds from the ball drop, an astounding $7,000 gift card if all of the balls are sold! Winners do not have to be present, and this provides yet another creative method for CREF to raise additional funds during the event.
Eckenrode is grateful to the collision repair industry for making the CREF efforts possible: “I would like to thank the collision industry for making over $20 million in donations possible in such a short period of time. I am not aware of any other technical trade having a ‘Foundation’ type organization that supports their programs like ours does. Collision school programs are becoming the envy of other school programs as they see what type of support the schools are receiving through us, and we look forward to working together to take this organization to another level.”