A nonprofit based in East Point that uses auto repair to mentor at-risk and formally incarcerated youth is gaining social media attention after being highlighted in a Mercedes-Benz documentary.
Larry Witherspoon founded the Automotive Training Center in East Point in 2014. Growing up in Cleveland, Ohio Witherspoon saw his father mentor students and work part time at a youth detention center which left an imprint on him. “I ended up getting into some legal trouble on my own and there was a point in my life where I had a wake-up call – I needed to deal with my personal issues before I ended up in jail or dead. I had the support of my family and when I moved to Atlanta, I meet people that reminded me of myself or the people my father had mentored,” he said.
After discovering a passion for working on engines, Witherspoon first teamed up with a local church that offered free or discounted car repairs for those in need. He took the idea from Powder Springs to East Point and set up shop with the goal of expanding the program to help train young people and build skills for those looking for employment after incarceration.
The Automotive Training Center provides young adults with technical training so that they may obtain entry-level employment in the automotive repair industry. Having a technical skill dramatically increases the odds of young adults escaping a life of crime, which is often the fallback option for adults and ex-convicts trying to earn money after lacking training to gain employment.
To date, 86 young men and women have graduated from the center and more than 80% are currently employed. There is no cost for students to attend both the introductory training program and entry-level technician program.
Mercedes-Benz USA recently spotlighted Witherspoon’s work in its latest Greatness Lives Here short documentary which is an initiative recognizing people making a difference in the lives of under-served youth in Atlanta where the company is headquartered.
The center has also entered into a partnership with Mercedes-Benz to train participants on Mercedes-Benz vehicles so that they may gain employment with the company after training is complete.
Witherspoon said he found the shop space in East Point (located at 2210 Sylvan Road) while working a delivery route and knew it was the perfect place to start the training center.
“We’re so close to the airport, many local high schools and 10 minutes from downtown Atlanta. It’s great being this centrally located to help as many people as possible,” he said.
In the future, Witherspoon hopes to build a larger shop space, train more staff and keep expanding. “My goal and my vision are big,” Witherspoon said. “I want to help as many people as possible break the cycle of mass incarceration — if they’re dealing with that or being at risk — and move on a path, through employment, to better themselves.”
For more information, visit www.automotivetrainingcenter.org.