Lots Of People Donate Their Cars, But This Owner Donated His Auto Repair Shop

Feb 26, 2017
Originally published on February 26, 2017 8:12 am

Down Baltimore's Greenmount Avenue, across from a hair braiding salon and a crab shack, the lights for the One Stop Auto Shop flash around the clock, much like shop owner Jerry Greeff's work ethic.

Greeff has been putting in his last days after working with cars for more than 40 years — and he's done quite well. In 2016, his business had $2.5 million in sales.

But he's been working long days for a long time.

"If a customer doesn't have their car, I feel bad for them," Greeff says. "They need their car."

So he — and his employees — would work late. Greeff knows what a difference having a car can make in getting to work and getting kids to daycare. He and his wife, Pam, have three grown kids of their own. But the time he spent at the shop, and away from her, was really getting to her.

"My wife had given me an ultimatum — she said it was her or the business," Greeff says. "It was a very close call, I gotta tell ya, but she eked it out."

Greeff says 10 years have passed since he took his last real vacation and that Pam was starting to travel solo. So, they tried selling the One Stop Auto Shop, but couldn't find a buyer who would run it. When you start a business and watch it grow for decades, it can be hard to let go of it and retire.

Then, the Greeffs had an idea.

They'd donated a few of their old cars to a local nonprofit specializing in auto mechanics. Why not donate the business?

"We didn't want to close," Greeff says. "We didn't want the employees to lose their jobs, we didn't want the community to lose it."

Vehicles for Change is a nonprofit that fixes up donated cars while teaching ex-offenders auto repair. They sell the cars at low cost to low-income families. The ex-offenders earn their mechanic certificates, they're placed in a job, and Vehicles for Change sells them a car at low cost, so they can get to that job.

Marty Schwartz, president of Vehicles for Change, says when the Greeffs donated their multimillion-dollar business, it was simply unbelievable.

"I mean it's amazing," Schwartz says. "It's a miracle."

And the benefits for the ex-offenders he trains are going to be plentiful.

"These are guys who have been to prison. They don't want to go back to prison. They don't want to go back to the life that they were in," Schwartz says. "They just need an opportunity."

In Maryland, about 40 percent of ex-offenders who were released from prison in 2009 were back in prison or under supervision by 2012.

Getting a job is crucial to staying out of prison, but those opportunities are rare.

"I been working on cars all my life," says 44-year-old Nick Kuespert. "I'm just an old redneck. I love cars and that's why I'm here."

Kuespert is finishing up his training in the Vehicles for Change auto shop. He grew up in Jackson, Miss., where his dad was addicted to drugs and the chaotic environment rubbed off on him.

"I didn't go to high school," Kuespert says. "I dropped out in the eighth grade because when I was in my teens, I was a hardcore addict."

But he bounced back and started a small construction business.

"Then when I was about 31, I relapsed." Kuespert says. "And my wife and my kids and — I'm sorry, excuse me," he says as he gathers himself. "So, um, [I] relapsed, I ended up doing some robberies, got caught and went to prison."

Kuespert was 34 years old when he went to prison.

"Since I been out, I been doing a lot better. I feel like I'm worth something because I show up and I help people. I fix cars for people that need cars, and I like that."

And that's the legacy the Greeffs want to leave behind.

Greeff says when he hands over the keys to the One Stop Auto Shop, he won't be able to stay away for long.

"I want to help 'em. I want them to succeed," he says. "They have an issue, I mean, I'm always on call for them."

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LOURDES GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:

In Baltimore, an auto mechanic named Jerry Greeff wanted to offload his business so he could retire. Instead of selling it to another mechanic, he donated his auto body shop to an organization that needed not only the cars but the work that goes with them. From member station WYPR, reporter Mary Rose Madden has the story.

MARY ROSE MADDEN, BYLINE: Down on Greenmount Avenue, across from a hair-braiding salon and a crab shack, the lights for the One Stop auto shop are flashing around the clock, much like shop owner Jerry Greeff's work ethic.

JERRY GREEFF: OK. Yeah, sir. I've got that quote for you. It's $26.99.

MADDEN: Greeff's putting in his last days after more than 40 years. And he's done quite well. In 2016, they did $2.5 million in sales. But he's been working long days for a long time.

GREEFF: If a customer doesn't have their car, I mean, I feel bad for them. They need their car.

MADDEN: So he and his employees would work late. Greeff knows what a difference having a car can make in getting to work, getting kids to daycare. He and his wife, Pam, have three grown kids of their own. But the time away was really getting to her.

GREEFF: My wife had given me an ultimatum. She said it was her or the business. It was a very close call, I got to tell you. But she eked it out.

MADDEN: OK. Well, when was your last vacation?

GREEFF: Other than weekend vacations, probably 10 years.

MADDEN: Pam was starting to travel solo. So they tried selling the One Stop auto shop but couldn't find a buyer who would run it.

GREEFF: We didn't want to close. We didn't want the employees to lose their jobs. We didn't want the community to lose it.

MADDEN: Then the Greeffs had an idea. In the past, they donated a few of their old cars to a local nonprofit specializing in auto mechanics. Why not donate the business? Vehicles For Change is a nonprofit that fixes up donated cars while teaching ex-offenders auto repair. They sell the cars at low cost to families considered working poor.

The ex-offenders earn their mechanic's certificate. They're placed in a job, and Vehicles For Change sells them a car at low cost to get to that new job. Marty Schwartz is the president of Vehicles For Change. He says when the Greeffs donated their $2.5 million business, it was simply unbelievable.

MARTY SCHWARTZ: I mean, it's amazing. I mean, it's a miracle.

MADDEN: And the benefits for the ex-offenders he trains are going to be plentiful.

SCHWARTZ: These are guys who have been to prison. They don't want to go back to prison. They don't want to go back to the life that they were in. They just need an opportunity.

MADDEN: In Maryland, 40 percent of ex-offenders who were released from prison in 2009 were back in prison by 2012. Getting a job is crucial to staying out of prison. But those opportunities are rare.

NICK KUESPERT: I've been working on cars all my life. I'm just an old redneck. I love cars. That's why I'm here.

MADDEN: Forty-four-year-old Nick Kuespert is finishing up his training in the Vehicles For Change auto shop. Kuespert grew up in Jackson, Miss., where his dad was addicted to drugs. And the chaotic environment rubbed off on him.

KUESPERT: I didn't go to high school. I dropped out in eighth grade because, when I was in my teens, I was a hardcore addict.

MADDEN: But he bounced back and started a small construction business.

KUESPERT: Then when I was about 31, I relapsed. And my wife and my kids - so relapsed and ended up, you know, doing some robberies, got caught and went to prison.

MADDEN: Kuespert was 34 years old when he went to prison.

KUESPERT: Since I've been out, I've been doing a lot better. I feel like I'm worth something because I show up, and I help people. I fix cars for people that need cars. And I like that.

MADDEN: And that's the legacy the Greeffs want to leave behind. Jerry Greeff says when he hands over the keys to the One Stop auto shop, he won't be able to stay away for long. For NPR News, I'm Mary Rose Madden in Baltimore. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.