Kansas Auto Body Association, CREF Partner to Raise Money for State Training Programs, Students

The new initiative aims to get more funding to potential future technicians, while connecting them with the collision repair industry.

The new KABA Collision School/Student Fund will raise and distribute money specifically for Kansas-based students and education programs. Image via Shutterstock.

The Kansas Auto Body Association (KABA) and the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF) announced a collaborative effort to raise money for scholarships and grants provided exclusively to Kansas students and schools, while encouraging more to take advantage of those opportunities.

The organizations are also aiming to help collision repairers in the state connect with their local training programs, to ensure students are getting the best possible technical education to prepare them to ultimately join the industry.

Kena Dacus, president of KABA, said the idea came about when Brandon Eckenrode, executive director of CREF, mentioned no Kansas student or school had applied for a CREF scholarship or grant in several years.

“We brainstormed how to get more involvement,” Dacus said.

The result is the new KABA Collision School/Student Fund, facilitated by CREF, which will provide scholarships and grants, both only available to Kansas collision repair students and school programs.

Dacus said the deadline for the first round of student scholarship applications was March 8. KABA had only received two by that point, but it’s a good start: “As Brandon pointed out, two is better than none,” she said, adding that board members are currently reviewing the applications and expect to be able to fund both.

School programs are encouraged to apply for CREF’s annual Benchmark Grants, which award up to $25,000 each to high school and post-secondary collision repair programs to pay for tools, equipment and hands-on learning opportunities. In 2023, CREF awarded $678,500 to more than 100 programs around the country.

The application for the 2024 awards is due June 28, and is available here.

Dacus, who owns Dacus Auto Body & Collision Repair in McPherson, KS, with her husband, Chris, said Kansas collision repairers are facing the same challenges in finding enough quality technicians to run their business as their counterparts across the U.S.

“We’re a pretty rural state,” Dacus said. “Most shops, if they’re not in Kansas City or Witchita, don’t really even have an opportunity to try to hire a tech from another shop. More shops are looking for students or folks you can ‘grow your own’ by giving them the training and tools.”

To help those shops find potential new technicians, KABA and CREF is helping them get involved with their local schools by finding volunteer and support opportunities for KABA members, including participating on a school advisory board, guest speaking at schools, donating auto parts to training, sponsoring Cintas work uniforms for collision students, or hosting students at their shops.

“We have been partnering together just to reach out to schools, and we’ve made huge progress in connecting with them so far,” Dacus said.

KABA is also organizing events to bring together Kansas industry members and collision students, while raising money for the KABA Collision School/Student Fund. The next such event is scheduled for July 13 at Top Golf in Overland Park.

Collision repairers can make a tax-deductible charitable donation to the KABA Collision School/Student Fund, by reaching out to either KABA or CREF to get a donation invoice created. Donations made to the fund will be specifically invested back into Kansas collision school programs and students.

For more information, contact Dacus at Kena@dacusauto.com or 620-803-2225, or Eckenrode at Brandon.Eckenrode@ed-foundation.org or 312-231-0258.

Abby Andrews

Abby Andrews is the editor and regular columnist of Autobody News.

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