Each year, interested schools complete a CREF survey to be eligible for monetary and in-kind donations. The survey asks details about their budget, enrollment and placement information so the organization can learn more about their situation and determine their needs. CREF then reaches out to a wide range of potential donors to fulfill the requests. Both traditional collision repair vendors and non-traditional businesses, such as flooring companies, have shown their support over the years.
Ninety cents of every dollar raised by CREF goes directly to the schools, students and instructors. CREF has been recognized by Charity Navigator as a four-star (out of four stars) charity due to its lean operational expenses and ensuring that as much as possible goes back to the schools.
Not only have these donations made a significant impact on existing school programs, but Eckenrode said they have also helped attract new students to the industry and put processes in place to employ the students after graduation.
One of the main ways Eckenrode said that CREF is making a difference is through its career fairs. Over the last few years, CREF began facilitating and organizing these events in major markets across the country to bring students and the industry together. Typically held in schools, neighboring high school and college students are invited to learn about the various career opportunities open to them. Initially, about 200--300 students attended each event. Over time, this number has grown to include about 400-plus students. In addition to collision repair students, participants also include those interested in auto service and automotive heavy-duty diesel, which Eckenrode said has been successful in giving hiring companies a larger pool of potential employees to choose from.
Those students who register for the career fairs at least 30 days prior to an event receive new Cintas technician shirts to wear. Eckenrode estimates they have distributed more than 75,000 of these shirts over the years.
The uniforms have made a positive impact on the program, according to Eckenrode, because the students look like industry professionals and are treated with a new level of respect by their peers and school staff.