Although it was only the second year Alex Levesque and his Automotive Mentoring Group (AMG) have attended the Hotrod & Restoration Trade Show in March, Levesque hopes the relationships he established at the show will make a difference to the young men involved with his program.
AMG, a nonprofit organization based out of Bedford Ill., teaches problem teens and 20-somethings the trade of building and restoring hot rods and muscle cars as well as essential work and life skills.
“I knew if I could get these younger guys involved that it would be all that they would think about-building the next car, getting the next part or going to the next show. You don’t have time to get in trouble because once you get involved with cars, it consumes all of your time and your thoughts,” said Levesque, who has been restoring classic cars for more than 24 years.
Levesque opened his first hot rod shop in 1993 after working for seven years as an architect.
He ran the mentoring program for 15 years with money from his own pocket, but established the program as a non-profit in 2007.
AMG has worked with more than 300 youths and operates out of two facilities with a combined space of nearly 15,000 square feet.
Volunteer mentors come from places like the Chicago Police and Fire Departments, and roughly 25 guys are working on cars at any given time.
Levesque said the organization is open seven days a week and only closes three days out of the whole year.
“In the inner city, there are not a whole lot of options, especially for these guys who have already been in trouble. Nobody really wants to bother with them. People are afraid of them,” Levesque said. “There are not a lot of options that they have to turn their lives around, so it’s important that we show up every day to be available to them.”
Many of the AMG’s mentees have served time, dropped out of school or have gotten caught in the grip of gangs, but the mentoring program has helped them navigate a more positive life path.
Whether individuals have gone on to attend local city colleges to pursue automotive careers or occupations outside of the industry, Levesque said the mentees have been able to “achieve greatness” with the skills taught in the program.
Levesque said many of the young men have told him that getting involved with AMG and restoring cars has saved them from a life of crime and destruction.
“I see that it works,” he says, “and I see the success of these guys that go through the program and what they turn out to be. They say, ‘This is our hope.'”
Since AMG is solely operated by volunteers and provides program participants with all of the supplies they need to work on the cars, the organization’s budget is tight.
That’s why Levesque is so grateful for support from industry professionals and finds attending the Hotrod & Restoration Show so valuable.
“One of the major reasons why we go there is to try to meet and shake hands with as many people from the industry as possible because we really want to try to get as many people as possible to support this effort because large cities have such a bad gang problem,” Levesque said.
Companies such as Woodward Fab and Dynamat have donated products and equipment, which Levesque calls “a blessing.”
Leveque hopes to expand the program to additional cities in the future because gang violence is an issue that plagues all metropolitan cities, but it needs the help of industry partners to make sure AMG can continue to make a difference.
“It’s just God’s grace that’s allowed it to go this far,” he said. “It’s been really a challenge trying to do it because the need is so great.”
To learn more about AMG, call Alex Levesque at 773-563-0034 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.