Not Just a Cause, But a Way of Life for Lefler Collision & Glass

Not Just a Cause, But a Way of Life for Lefler Collision & Glass

The collision repair industry gives back in a big way, and certain body shops are well-known for their philanthropy and kindness.

They give cars away and sponsor things like food drives, car washes and other fundraisers for local charities and more. Many of these shops have been doing these types of things for so many years that it's practically in their DNA, just like fixing cars.

While most shops reach out to help their respective communities, there is one third-generation MSO that is changing the world with its generosity and commitment to making a change. Jimmy Lefler, the owner of Lefler Collision and Glass, with three locations in Indiana and one in Kentucky, embarked eight years ago on an amazing journey to help people in Myanmar (formerly Burma).

Lefler, his family and some of his crew work closely with an organization called Uncharted International that has 12 orphanages with more than 600 orphans in Myanmar; a home for elderly widows; a human trafficking recovery center; and The Loom House, which provides jobs for the children that grow up in the orphanages and for women who, without a job, would end up in horrible situations to provide for themselves and their families.

For his 11th time, Lefler traveled to Myanmar right after Christmas last year for two weeks. It has become his annual pilgrimage, but how did it all begin?

"At my church in 2008, they showed us what the conditions in Myanmar were like, and we were terrified by what we saw," Lefler said. "So we decided to sponsor three orphans, but when we started getting letters from them and learning their stories, we knew we had to do more."

One day, Jimmy's wife Stephanie came into his office and announced that God was calling them to go to Myanmar. "So I looked at my cell phone and there were no messages from Him there," he said. "I jokingly asked my wife, 'Are you sure?'"

When most husbands get a "honey do list," it says things like clean up the garage or wash the car, but this particular request was going to involve a 30 hour+ travel period, including one 16-hour flight to reach their destination, and Jimmy wasn't enamored with the idea initially.

"First off, I had to look at a map to find Myanmar," Lefler said. "I am not a really adventurous person in general. I hate camping and I can't stand living out of suitcases, so I figured I would go the first time and that would be it."

But after seeing the orphans and victims of human trafficking firsthand in Myanmar, Lefler realized that this was going to be a little more than just a two-week vacation. "Like Michael Anderson from Collision Advice always says, 'We didn't know what we didn't know,'" Lefler said. "These people were so wonderful and so grateful [that] it just melted my heart. They were embarrassed to receive our help, but we were right in there doing manual labor with them and I think they respected that. What they give back to us in immeasurable. They have become our family.”

During his first trip, Lefler was helping people with things he knew nothing about, but it did not dissuade him for a second, he explained. "They wanted to raise pigs and chickens, but they didn't know about the business side. Planning, rotating, feeding, selling--I had to teach them all of that and I knew nothing about pigs or chickens! So I did my research, and then when we returned, I was more prepared. One of the villagers wanted to raise fish, so I researched the process and advised him to dig a pond. When I returned the 6 months later, I was amazed at the two ponds he had dug by hand. They were 20 ft. long, 30 ft. wide and three feet deep and I was shocked that he did it all by himself. So now he's raising fish."

Lefler focuses much of his attention on The Loom House, which enables orphans who age out of the orphanage to have careers in which they can flourish and have pride. It has also provided employment to women who otherwise would have ended up in very unfavorable situations.

"Unfortunately, without The Loom House opportunity, their chance of becoming victims to false promises from human trafficking scavengers are high," Lefler explained. "They promise them work abroad and sell them into tragic and inescapable slavery, and it happens every day. So The Loom House takes them out of that life and gives them a chance to support themselves."

The young ladies that work at The Loom House sew, knit and make blankets, jewelry, silk scarves, makeup bags and dresses for sale worldwide. Of every dollar that comes in, 90 cents goes to the employees of The Loom House. When Lefler began to collaborate with and coordinate the processes within the The Loom House in 2009, the operation made around $8,000, but last year it brought in almost $100,000 thanks to the purchases of many in the collision community.

Now, the Leflers bring an entire group along with them to Myanmar. "My twin 17-year-old girls made their fourth trip in December," he said. It has changed their whole perspective on life. "My Axalta Jobber, Bill Payne, started going with me in 2010, and now he sponsors his own orphanage and has taught them how to fix and maintain all of their transportation vehicles including their van and motorbikes, allowing them to have consistent transportation. I have taken three marketing staff members to assist in branding and marketing The Loom House products. My son, who manages our Maxwell shop in Evansville, has been three times, and my wife works with medical teams and teaches educational programs in the areas of health, hygiene and family planning."

In addition to supporting and enabling these orphanages and setting up The Loom House for ongoing production, the Leflers welcomed a young woman from Myanmar into their home in Indiana a while back.

"Elizabeth Thang is the daughter of Rebecca and Peter Thang, the founders and leaders over the Love Children Home Christian orphanage network," Lefler said. “Elizabeth has lived with my family for almost two years and is studying to get her bachelor's degree from the University of Southern Indiana,” he said. "She is working on an International Business degree and looking forward to returning to Yangon, Myanmar to make a difference in the newly open democratic country. She is a 4.0 student on the Dean’s List and is deeply involved with the work at Uncharted local headquarters, the summer program for international students department for the school and she is a foreign exchange student ambassador for incoming freshmen from around the world. "

Lefler is already planning for his 12th trip to Myanmar at the end of 2017. "I am planning a trip for up to 12 people later this year," he said. “My goal is to coordinate a team of people in the collision and related industries with an interest in making a difference in the lives of people looking for a 'hand up' not a 'hand out.' People think that one person can’t make a difference, but all they need to do is make one trip with me; I can show them that through love, knowledge and a little sweat, one person can change the futures of many. It’s a cumulative effect.”

Ed Attanasio

Ed Attanasio is an automotive journalist and Autobody News columnist based in San Francisco.

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