May 27, 2020

Changing oil and lives. KY shop trains mechanics as they work to overcome addiction.



Rafael Gonzalez has the arrests and losses to show for abuse of alcohol and methamphetamine that got so bad he couldn’t hold down a job.

But that was before — before he got sober and got baptized at Addiction Recovery Care in Louisa, before he started learning to be an auto mechanic as part of his treatment.

Now he can change the oil in vehicles. He can fix brakes. And he can see a future.

“It keeps you motivated,” said Gonzalez, a slight, soft-spoken 27-year-old.

The shop grew from an idea that combining job training with substance-abuse treatment would benefit people working to overcome addiction by preparing them for a life after getting clean.

The concept is to help people go from crisis to career, showing them the potential to again be productive members of society, said Tim Robinson, president of ARC.

“That provides hope. That motivates people to engage and complete their treatment,” said Robinson, a former prosecutor who founded the treatment business after dealing with his own addiction to alcohol.




The idea has worked.


Before ARC started incorporating vocational training in its treatment process, just 40 percent of its clients stayed past the initial 30-day phase.

That rate jumped to 75 percent when ARC started its first job-training program, Robinson said.

The organization had to double the number of beds available for the second phase of its year-long treatment program to accommodate people staying on for job training.

That’s significant because more time in treatment means better potential for long-term sobriety.

Of the people who have received job training while taking part in treatment at ARC since October 2016, more than 80 percent remain employed and in active recovery, Robinson said.


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced earlier this year it would include ARC in a study of how programs help people move from poverty and addiction into the workforce.

ARC provides clinical drug-addiction treatment coupled with Christian principles. It has seven residential treatment facilities and several outpatient clinics with about 1,000 people in treatment.




Most of its facilities are in the Appalachian counties of Kentucky, but it has an outpatient clinic in Lexington.

Its first vocational program was training clients as peer-support specialists — people who have been successful in their own recovery and are trained to be a shoulder for people in treatment to lean on.

Many went on to work for ARC. A third of the company’s 625 employees are graduates of its treatment program, Robinson said.

The organization has set up a partnership with Big Sandy Community and Technical College to train medical receptionists, and also has a building-trades internship.

It is looking to expand its job training and education to other fields.

The mechanic training program grew from ARC’s work servicing its own fleet of vans.

James Keeton, who manages Second Chance Auto, said he, Robinson and others began talking about opening a garage to the public in order to create jobs and generate income to help pay for training.

The idea gathered momentum at the same time ARC had a person in its recovery program with the background to help make it happen.

Jon Storms grew up at his father’s full-service repair shop in Corbin, where he began changing tires years before he could drive.

He knew which services to offer and what prices to charge, how to estimate the cost of a repair job and which computer programs the shop would need.

“I eat and breathe this stuff,” said Storms, 42 , a tattooed, upbeat evangelist for the power of second chances who has been sober more than two years.




Addiction Recovery Care paid to remodel and equip the repair shop, which opened to the public a year ago on Watermelon Hill Road in Louisa.

The shop can handle anything from fixing flat tires to rebuilding engines.

Business has grown so quickly that all the bays are full at times.

“We have customers now who basically walk in, throw us the keys and say ‘Figure out what’s wrong with it,’“ said Keeton, 44, who has a decade of sobriety under his belt.

Keeton believes God has a plan for his life, a way to use everything he went through, and the shop is part of that.

“I believe that reason is today I can help other people,” he said.

The shop has some employees who are not in recovery from drug or alcohol abuse, but most are.

Experienced mechanics check the work of people in training.

There are two men in training right now, but about a dozen others have gone on from the garage to work elsewhere, Keeton said.

Lonnie Thomason, who is in treatment at ARC for an addiction to alcohol, is taking part in the mechanic training program.

Thomason, 49, was a certified mechanic at dealerships in Berea and Richmond before letting his certification lapse as booze dragged him down.

He said it helps him to work around others who understand the struggles of addiction.

“Staying connected is necessary for me — staying connected with people in recovery,” Thomason said. “I’ll probably retire from here if they’ll put up with me.”

Second Chance is not yet set up to provide a certification to participants, but Keeton said he hopes to someday develop the program to provide the top standard for mechanics, called Automotive Service Excellence, or ASE, certification.

The business has added a body shop — already booked for months — and plans to add a detail shop by Feb. 1, Storms said.




Managers also want to expand the mechanic training program so more people in recovery can take part.

“We’re just trying to expand everything we can on it,” Storms said. “Hope is the main thing that I feel that you need in recovery. Here, we’re giving people the possibility of not only just being clean and sober, but having, not a job, but a career.”

It has worked for Gonzalez.

He had held jobs at fast food restaurants, in construction and at Walmart and Dollar General, but drugs ultimately cost him his job, his home and his fiancée.

He got arrested once after police found him stumbling around a store telling people he had meth to sell. Another time he was arrested after falling asleep on a bus in Ashland and a police officer thought he was so impaired he was a danger to himself.

“I was pretty much good at being an addict,” he said. “I was just a lost soul trying to find something, be somewhere.”

At ARC he found support, sobriety and new purpose. Dec. 19 marked one year clean for him.

He wants to stay on at Second Chance Auto and become a certified mechanic.

“I was offered an opportunity when most wouldn’t offer it,” Gonzalez said. “I know I have the tools.”



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