College Grad Found Car Repair Passion After Overcoming Homelessness

Today, Benjamin Hart is a proud father of four and owner of a car repair shop in El Cajon, CA. In a past life, however, he lived on the streets for a decade as alcoholism plagued him. Photo by Natay Holmes, ABC 10News.

The auto industry is in need of more technicians, and Cuyamaca College in El Cajon, CA, is helping steer students in that direction through its auto technology program. The program works with partners, like GM and Ford, to get students into auto body shops and gain real-world experience outside of the classroom.

Of course, the college also has shops on campus where students can get hands-on experience.

ABC 10News spoke to a non-traditional college student who took advantage of this program; he's older and a father of four, but he used the knowledge gained from the program to open his own business.

"As a mechanic, I can go anywhere and I can have a job the next day," Benjamin Hart said.

Unscrewing one lug nut at a time, Hart said fixing cars has become his passion.

"It's very hard to find a shop that you're comfortable with and where people are going to be really transparent with you," he said.

Cuyamaca College's auto technology program helped Hart find the tools he needed to open his own business in 2020. The program trains students to fix a variety of systems that exist in a car.

"We have students who have never opened the hood of a car, all the way to students who already do it for a living. They just want updated training because of technology and automotive--I mean---it changes consistently," one of the instructors told 10News.

"It's been a ton of information. There's so much to learn about cars," Hart said.

The program draws a lot of students who are already working in the auto industry.

"I started my associate degree as a full-time employee at a shop at Smitty Service on Adams, working 12 hours a day from 5:30 in the morning till 5:30 at night and taking classes from 6 to 10 in the evening," Hart said.

Even before enrolling in classes, Hart's road to getting his degree wasn't easy: He had to combat homelessness and addiction years ago.

"I was street homeless for almost 10 years. It got to a point where my alcoholism had become a factor in my health... I was dying, and it was a time to make a decision," he says.

On June 8, Hart will be the commencement speaker for his class at the graduation. He said "proud" isn't the word to describe his accomplishments. He said he just wants to keep striving for the best for his family and business, TBH Complete Auto Care.

"For TBH Complete Auto Care to be the gold standard of automotive service---to say 'Hey, those guys are gonna steer me right. Those guys are gonna make sure I'm safe. Those guys are gonna keep me on the road,'" he said.

Once his business is fully off the ground, Hart wants to continue his education at UC San Diego and get a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering.

We thank ABC 10News for reprint permission.

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