With the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan winding down, it’s wonderful to see many heart-warming stories, photos and videos of service members coming home and celebrating with their families.
For many veterans, though, returning home is just the start of a struggle as they transition back into civilian life. Some face long recoveries from physical and mental injuries. A difficult, slow economy in recent years compounds the challenge of finding employment.
Through the leadership of the National Auto Body Council (NABC), the collision industry has come together to thank and honor veterans and active duty soldiers for their service by providing invaluable support through the Recycled Rides and Operation Comfort AutoMotivation programs.
There are a number of programs such as 3M’s “Hire Our Heroes” campaign devoted to providing training and support for the nation’s returning veterans and their families. Still, one of the major barriers to finding and maintaining employment is a lack of reliable transportation.
Without a vehicle, juggling routine events like grocery shopping, medical visits and taking kids to school is enough of a challenge, much less trying to get to job interviews. It could also mean settling for a low-paying job that barely makes ends meet because it is the only job available on the bus route or within walking distance.
Recognizing this need, NABC members across the country, representing all segments of the collision industry, have pooled resources through Recycled Rides and reached out to military and veteran support organizations to identify service members who need a helping hand.
According to Nick Notte, NABC President, over 50% of the 200 vehicles donated in 2013 through Recycled Rides were gifted to veterans or active duty military.
“For some veterans, owning a car provides much more than just transportation,” said Notte. “It is often the catalyst that restores a sense of pride, independence and the confidence to tackle whatever challenges they may face as they rebuild their lives and take care of their families.”
Progressive Insurance led the charge last year, partnering with NABC member shops nationally to simultaneously donate 59 Recycled Rides vehicles in one single day to military veterans. Enterprise Rent-A-Car provided insurance for each recipient for the first six months.
Other NABC members including Allstate, GEICO, State Farm, Esurance, American Family Insurance, the Hanover Insurance Group, the Auto Club of Southern California, along with Hertz and Enterprise, were also instrumental in providing multiple vehicles for Recycled Rides.
Additionally, a “who’s who” list of industry leaders generously donated paint, parts, and materials – 3M, LKQ, Keystone, 1-800 Radiator, Axalta Coatings, Sherwin Williams - to name a few.. Technicians and staff at repair shops, ranging from large MSO”s to single location independents, all volunteered personal time. For many, what started out as a routine repair, soon became one of their most rewarding experiences as they personally witnessed the relief and gratitude of the recipients.
“We are extremely proud of the significant impact our collision industry has been able to make in the lives of many of our military service heroes,” said Notte. “While some of our member companies may compete with each other in the business arena, when it comes to giving back, we are all united and committed to work together in our common goal to make a positive impact in the lives of individuals.”
As a result of the NABC-led fundraising campaign that raised $100,000 in 2013, Operation Comfort was able to re-launch its AutoMotivation program this past January with a move into a spacious, newly renovated facility in San Antonio, Texas.
AutoMotivation is a one-of-a-kind program in the U.S., in which wounded soldiers returning from Iraq and Afghanistan receive rehabilitative occupational therapies while working on automotive-related projects. AutoMotivation collaborates with the Brooke Army Medical Center to provide opportunities for soldiers to learn from and with their peers who understand what they have gone through and may be in similar situations.
Major sponsors of the 2013 campaign include 3M, Hertz, Enterprise Rent-A-Car, GEICO and many other collision repair shops, businesses and individuals in the industry.
“It’s gratifying to see how our joint efforts as an industry are making a difference in the lives of our military heroes,” said Chuck Sulkala, NABC Executive Director and a Marine veteran himself. “Prior to this recent move, the program was dormant and without a home. Now the guys have a place of their own, where they can meet and work on automotive projects in a comfortable atmosphere, while recovering from physical or mental injuries.”
According to Sulkala, collision industry support is still needed to help ensure disabled veterans continue to receive the physical, mental and therapeutic support they deserve through the AutoMotivation program. Businesses and individuals can help by:
- Donating materials, supplies and equipment for the facility.
- Providing training in collision repair.
- Contributing financial support to meet program needs.
As note-worthy as the efforts by NABC members have been to date, this is only a small dent in meeting the transportation and therapeutic needs of thousands more veterans and active duty service members. The collision industry has a unique opportunity to make a difference and provide a helping hand to those who have served us.
For more information on participating in Recycled rides or Operation Comfort’s AutoMotivation program, contact the National Auto Body Council. www.NationalAutoBodyCouncil.org.
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