After months of work, these Windsor, Ont., auto shop students gave a car to a family in need

Cielle Levesque and Graziella Mocri, Grade 10 students at École secondaire catholique E.J. Lajeunesse, were in the Windsor, Ont., class of students who refurbished a 2011 Jeep Compass that was then given away to a family in need.   (Amy Dodge/CBC - image credit)
Cielle Levesque and Graziella Mocri, Grade 10 students at École secondaire catholique E.J. Lajeunesse, were in the Windsor, Ont., class of students who refurbished a 2011 Jeep Compass that was then given away to a family in need. (Amy Dodge/CBC - image credit)

One Windsor, Ont., family left École secondaire catholique E.J. Lajeunesse in a new-to-them car Tuesday morning, thanks to the efforts of auto shop students over the last semester.

Rebuilding Wheels, Rebuilding Lives, a program for high school students taking a mechanics class, gives them the opportunity to get a vehicle into tiptop shape with the help of their teacher. The vehicle is then given free to a family in need, through an application process by the United Way.

Ifeoma Ihedioha, who received the 2011 Jeep Compass on Tuesday, came to Canada five years ago from Nigeria and has been getting around with her kids using friends, buses and cabs, which can get expensive.

"I lack words; I really can't find the right words to express my gratitude to the students, teachers, donors, partners, the United Way itself," she said.

"It really has not been easy as a single mom, [as an] immigrant ... I am grateful."

Amy Dodge/CBC
Amy Dodge/CBC

For students, it gave their class project some real-life impact. Some parts of the work went smoothly, while others took a bit more effort.

"I've been looking forward to this since we started," Grade 10 student Cielle Levesque said of making Tuesday's donation. "[Our teacher] told us like, this isn't just a regular car. This is a car we're going to fix up entirely. We're going to make sure everything is perfect for this family.

"It just became something I was really passionate about working on."

Another student said it'll make her more confident in taking care of her own car when she has one.

"I feel a lot more comfortable with working on cars," said student Graziella Mocri, also in Grade 10. "Or if I ever have to help my father with his car, now I can help him, and even if he doesn't know, I might know."

Transportation teacher Antoine Labbé said this vehicle was a good candidate for the Rebuilding Wheels, Rebuilding Lives program. Students have been working on the SUV throughout the semester.

"It's a gift for students and for me as a teacher," Labbé said of the shop's space the school has. "Why not use our talents to do something to give back to the community?"

This car came in to the program with about 78,000 kilometres on the odometer and plenty of life left in it, he said.

"It was a great candidate, didn't need a lot of repairs," Labbé said. "But it did need some some repairs on the suspension, you know, tuning up the engine, oil changes, your regular maintenance items and stuff like that."

Amy Dodge/CBC
Amy Dodge/CBC

Since 2014, more than 500 students have worked on 17 vehicles donated to families in need across Windsor and Essex County through Rebuilding Wheels, Rebuilding Lives. Each vehicle was itself donated to the program.

Families are selected through a process with the United Way and chosen based on financial need and the ability to afford the ongoing expenses associated with a car.

"Access to transportation has been a barrier for some local families and owning a reliable vehicle can be a game changer for families living in low income," the program notes.

The program is also made possible with help from local automotive shops and dealerships: County Chevrolet, Benson Auto Parts and Beverly Tire, which all helped out with getting the cars into the hands of students to be worked on, and then parts, inspections and paperwork like ownership and taxes.

"I think it's amazing. Sometimes we work on a class project, it's a class project," said teacher Shelley Ryan.

"When they see the recipient drive away today with the vehicle, you hear students going, 'I did that because I had some skills that I didn't realize were so important, I can actually change someone's life.' So it's really, really nice to see them being so excited about their skills and what they can offer."

As for what Ihedioha said she'll do with her new car: Take a drive around town, and go pick her kids up at school.