In this episode of Auto Pros On The Road, Joe Keene and Jacqui Van Ham visit Joel Bokelman and the team at Changing Gears in Cincinnati, Ohio. Changing Gears is a non-profit organization that was founded to help eliminate transportation inequities that exist in Cincinnati. Determined to be the change that he envisioned in the world, Executive Director Joel Bokelman and his wife, Marnie, founded Changing Gears a decade ago as a way to combine his love for cars with a desire to help in a tangible way.
“We have a lot going on and sometimes it’s hard to explain, but we basically explain it as cars and people,” Bokelman says. “There’s a massive need for transportation – it touches so many areas of everyone’s lives.”
In Cincinnati, if you’re dependent on public transportation, only 5% of jobs are accessible in less than an hour’s commute. However, Bokelman says, with a car, 99% of jobs are accessible within an hour. Other cities without robust public transportation systems pose similar hurdles to many people struggling to get to work.
The organization takes in donations of cars, then restores them and sells them to qualified candidates at no-interest financing. “We celebrate with them when they get the keys, and we celebrate with them when they pay off the car and get the title,” Bokelman says.
Changing Gears accepts donations of vehicles in any condition, he explains. “We can use all of them to help accomplish our mission,” Bokelman says. “The first step is for our techs to do an assessment of what we have, then we determine how best we can use the vehicle.”
Two Master ASE-Certified technicians – Eric Dallas and Rob Woodly – conduct the inspections and perform the repairs. They say the best part of their jobs is working with the community to give people freedom. In addition to the physical repair procedures, both techs sometimes serve as counselors for clients in search of vehicle repairs. Bokelman says the conversations can often be difficult when a determination needs to be made whether a vehicle is worth investing in for repair, but both Dallas and Woodly have the empathy to handle the conversation and the expertise to help the client through another of Changing Gears’ programs.
“(Both Eric and Rob) want to do something else with their skills,” says Bokelman. “That’s why they buy into our mission and use their skills to help someone else.”
In addition to helping drivers meet their transportation needs, Changing Gears offers a four-week technician training program for future technicians in partnership with Cincinnati’s CityLink Center, a faith-based, city-wide initiative started by a group of social service agencies that recognized the need for integrated services.
The training program’s highlights include:
- Free tuition;
- Hands-on training in tire repair and oil changes in a state-of-the-art facility;
- Instruction from an ASE Certified Master Technician;
- Career counseling and soft skills training;
- Opportunity to shadow and connect with employer partners.
“Our mission is to empower people who are working toward prosperity by providing affordable transportation solutions,” explains Bokelman. He praises his collaborative partners (CityLinkCenter and Per Scholas), all of his funding partners who contribute at multiple levels and in multiple ways as well as his local industry advisory council made up of local shops and dealerships for keeping this segment of his vision on track.
“As we help each other, people will have the freedom to accomplish their dreams,” he says.
For more information on this inspirational mission or to learn how you can get involved, visit Changing Gears online.
Auto Pros On the Road showcases stories of automotive aftermarket service professionals. Throughout the series, presented by ShopOwner in collaboration with our sister brand TechShop – Equipment, Tools & Supplies, viewers follow the Auto Pros into repair shops as they speak with shop owners and technicians about their challenges, their stories and their values.
New episodes will be available monthly.