Automotive mentors offer alternate to life on streets

March 21, 2014 (CHICAGO)

Antonio Stinnett admits he has a problem.

"I got addicted to money," he said.

That addiction landed him in prison for selling drugs. He's now on parole and says he's trying to clean up his act.

"I think it could be beneficial because later on in life it might help me be able to do something like get a job or it could be my occupation," he said.

Stinnett has come to the Automotive Mentoring Group for help.

"The Automotive Mentoring Group is a non-for-profit work readiness program and we have a special niche. Our niche is Chicago gang members past and present," said founder K. Alex Levesque.

Eighteen-year-old Willie Nesbitt, who is also on parole, says the program is teaching him new skills while providing a safe haven from the street.

"I'm tired of looking over my shoulder and stuff like that so being here I feel safer," Nesbitt said.

In between the hands-on training in restoring vintage cars come life lessons, clippings of violent crimes plaster the men's room walls as reminders of the life the mentees should be leaving behind. They also get fatherly advice, often as simple as "pull your pants up."

"It makes a difference because no one really will tell you to pull your pants up so it's good to hear it come from somebody. That means they actually care," Stinnett said.

For Levesque, the mission is more than just fixing up old cars. It's about saving a generation.

"My motivation behind doing this I was extremely frustrated like all of us with the gang murders and all the killings of all the innocent children," Levesque said. "Young men are only interested in two things and that's young girls and old cars and I'm in the car business."

Most of the men who join the program are referred through parole officers.

Automotive Mentoring Group Facebook page:

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