Car Refurbishing Builds Pride

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Recent high school graduates Donald Ahlers, Joe Gresh and Anthony Pagano – all students in the school’s career development program – spent a rewarding senior year as interns at the local Lee’s Auto Body, refurbishing a special car for donation to the school. Showing great attention to detail, the students learned technologies including wiring, paint stripping, glueing and welding while working under the guidance of job coach Scott Hoelldobler and Lee’s owner Gary Teich.

In the internship program with Lee’s, the students spent an hour a day, twice weekly during the school year, working at the auto body shop. The school’s connection with Lee’s started out small three years ago, but has proven valuable, according to Hoelldobler. “My colleague Kelly Kern asked Gary Teich if he would be willing to help out the East Islip career development program,” said Hoelldobler. “He said he would give it a try. Things worked out so well that he hired one of the students part-time at his shop after the student graduated that June.”

At the beginning of the last school year, Lee’s purchased a damaged 2006 Mercury Grand Marquis. When Teich, a 1982 East Islip alumnus and vice president of the East Islip Chamber of Commerce, was informed that the school was looking for a car for its security guards, he decided to turn the car into a project for the students that Lee’s could give to the school.

“Throughout the school year, the boys worked on the car every week,” said Hoelldobler. “The kids took doors off of another Grand Marquis and put them on the donor car. They also changed out the locks so that one key would fit all of the locks. They changed out the taillights, and hooked up the light bar on the roof. They welded and sanded parts and used body filler. They participated in every aspect of putting a car together. ”

“The kids worked very hard, and the results show it,” said Teich. “This was a rewarding project on so many levels for all involved. Scott and Kelly do such a great job with the students, showing them patience, perseverance and guidance. I think we have all benefitted from their values. We are so proud of Joe, Anthony and Donald for all their efforts.”

The emblem on the doors and hood was designed by Matthew Teich, Gary’s son and a member of East Islip High School’s Class of 2016. Hoelldobler noted that the three career development students helped with the creative process, providing feedback for tweaking the image. The “100” on the car represented Lee’s Auto Body’s 100th year in business, and its red and white paint job not only reflects the school colors, but holds special meaning for Gary Teich. He chose a 1982 “Corvette Red” for the stripe –1982 for his graduation year, and the "Corvette" part in honor of his sister, Honey, who owned a Corvette repair shop in Bohemia and passed away last December. Steve Behan, a member of East Islip’s Board of Education, helped Teich paint the car, and it was eventually donated to the school’s security team at a May board meeting.

Hoelldobler believes that the value of the program goes beyond mere mechanical experience. “I hope that I have not only been a job coach for Anthony, Donald and Joe, but rather a life coach and mentor,” he said. “I have watched these guys develop into fine young men, each growing in different ways. And Gary doesn't only teach the kids about auto body work. From day one, he covered all aspects of work ethic, respect for others and taking pride in your own work. He has taught the kids that by always learning more, they become more employable, and that paying attention has rewards.”

Hoelldobler sees successful programs such as this one as a symbol of the district and community’s solidarity and support of its students.  “It is truly wonderful to see the East Islip business community give these folks a chance to contribute,” he said. “As I have said many times at various chamber of commerce meetings, ‘If you give these kids a chance, I assure you that two things will probably happen. First, you will be thrilled with their work, and second, you will probably get more out of this experience than the kids will.’ Everyone can contribute to their community, if given the opportunity and the right level of support. In my opinion, East Islip is showing everyone else how to do it right.”