Giving Back

Part Donations Help Iowa Student Vehicle Donation Program

Photo by: Hansen's Photography

Students at Northwest Iowa Community College’s two-year auto program are learning some valuable skills. Not only are they learning how to diagnose auto problems and repair both gas and diesel vehicles, they are also learning the importance of giving back to the community.

Twice a year the 60 to 70 students in both the auto and diesel repair programs work on “project” cars that are donated to needy Iowa families as part of Charitable Chariots.

“It helps the students learn to give back,” explained automotive instructor Jim Gaard. “It teaches them to repair a vehicle, but also community service.”

Charitable Chariots was started in 2010 by Steve Youngs and Dennis Wallace, two instructors from Northwest Iowa Community College (NCC), located in Sheldon, Iowa. It is similar to the National Autobody Council’s Recycled Rides program, but the vehicles are repaired by students, instead of shops.

It is a SkillsUSA Community Service Project that utilizes service learning. The program examines the potential in a donated vehicle to return to the road. Students from NCC’s Diesel and Auto Service departments repair, service and clean the vehicle and ensure it will provide safe, reliable transportation with little to no maintenance needs for several years. The group works with the Upper Des Moines Opportunity, Inc. (UDMO), which is one of 18 Community Action Agencies in Iowa, to find recipients for the vehicles. The UDMO offers services to families, individuals and children that are classified as “working poor.” The UDMO chooses the family to which the vehicle is given and the students take part in the ceremony. Since Charitable Chariots was initiated, 19 vehicles have been given away to families in need, most of those include children. 

Both Wallace and Youngs have since retired from the program. It is now headed by Gaard.

Gaard is an auto tech teacher with more than 24 years of experience in the industry. He is in his eighth year of teaching. He worked in various dealerships around Des Moines before beginning his teaching career in East Texas. He has been at NCC for the last four years. He said the students usually try to rebuild at least two vehicles a year, but sometimes are able to finish three. And, not only do the rebuilds teach community service – the students personally hand over the keys to family – but they help the students stay busy year round. For example, the car can sit at the campus and when there’s time, the students can tackle a problem on it as they are learning about the repair.

“It is work that’s there for them,” added Gaard.

The students are currently working on 1998 Chrysler Concord and a 2004 Saturn Vue. The vehicles are donated by members of the community. Gaard said once a vehicle is donated, they analyze what needs to be done to get it fixed. If it doesn’t meet their requirements, the vehicle is sold to an individual or a salvage facility and the money goes back into the program, nothing goes to waste. For example, NCC no longer has an auto body program, so vehicles that need major body work aren’t good candidates for the program.

That’s where a partnership with the Iowa Automotive Recyclers (IAR) is such a good thing for the program. Donated used auto parts help the program stay active.

“We don’t have a budget,” said Gaard. “Anything that takes cash, takes a chunk out of what the students can do.”
The IAR has partnered with Charitable Chariots to sponsor vehicles in the past. It has been active with Charitable Chariots since 2011. IAR Executive Director Sue Schauls got interested in the program after meeting with Youngs at the NCC booth at the 2011 Iowa Collision Repair Association event. Schauls and Youngs knew each other from way back and Schauls volunteered IAR to help with the program.
Since then, IAR members, like Lems Auto Recyclers, Inc., Quandt Auto Salvage, Swift’s Trails End Auto Recycling, Pat’s Auto Salvage and Waterloo Auto Parts have all donated used auto parts.

“Replacing an engine is a huge expense for us,” said Gaard. “If an auto recycler can get us a good used motor, than our life is really good.”

Not only do auto recyclers get the satisfaction of giving students the tools to learn about auto repair, but those students will turn into repairers and even business owners who will know the benefit of utilizing recycled auto parts
in repairs. 

“It’s a great opportunity for auto recyclers to teach students to look to used auto parts as professional automotive repair technicians of the future,” Schauls confirmed.

Gaard said most of his students either stay in the area or move just outside it after graduation.

The IAR and Swift’s Trails End Auto Recycling jointly donated an engine for the 1998 Chrysler Concord.

“It is live work for this program,” said Gaard. “The students learn that it just makes sense to use recycled parts on some of these vehicles.”

Currently the 2004 Saturn Vue needs a straight right fender and front bumper cover, preferably in black so it doesn’t have to be painted. If a recycler wants to donate to the program, they can call Gaard at 936-635-2495 or email him at

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