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The Lost Angels | Aaron Valencia, Custom Car Builder
For many years Aaron Valencia's life was marked by poverty, violence, and addiction. He describes growing up on welfare in a single-parent home and moving every 6-12 months: "It was really just surviving and bouncing around and trying to find a bit of stability... getting in trouble was kind of where I fit in and where I felt comfortable."
Why don't we teach these kids how to create a life for themselves?"
Aaron finally checked himself into rehab, more for the purpose of finding a safehouse than with the intention of staying sober. But it actually proved to be a major turning point in his life. From there, Aaron found his fresh start fixing cars. It became his obsession, replacing the former addictions with a drive to better himself and learn something new.
Around that time Aaron also began volunteering at the local homeless shelter. He recalls thinking that, while serving food was helpful and highly needed, it still put such a small dent in the bigger picture. He'd see the same kids come through the shelter day after day and wanted to do something to break that cycle.
He decided to invite the kids into his mechanic’s shop to teach them what he knew. Aaron wasn’t sure exactly how he was going to pull it off—"Like seriously, we had no money," he recalls. But having made it out of a life of destruction himself, he felt it was almost his responsibility to do something for these kids. He started by closing down his business early, at 3 o’clock each day. The kids would show up and together they’d share a meal and Aaron would teach them hands-on skills like welding and using wrenches.
With the support of the community, the program grew into what is now the Lost Angels Children's Project, which continues with the mission of providing at-risk youth with a safe and constructive place to go after school. It gives the kids an opportunity for a better future through mentoring and learning tangible vocational skills.
As part of the Project, Aaron and his team work with the program's youth every year to restore a classic car. The kids spend months learning how to do everything from sourcing the parts to building the body and adding their own distinctive details. At the end of the restoration, tickets are sold, a drawing is held, and a lucky winner takes home the hot rod. All of the money raised goes back into building the Lost Angels' programs.
To learn more about the Lost Angels Children's Project, visit their website at http://www.lostangelscp.org.