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CREF Announces New Leadership, Celebrates 30th Anniversary

As the Collision Repair Education Foundation (CREF) celebrates 30 years of charitable activities in the collision industry, a new leader is taking the helm. The Board of Trustees has selected Brandon Eckenrode as the organization’s next managing director, effective July 1, 2021.

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Eckenrode, who has worked within the collision industry for 20 years, joined CREF’s development team in 2009 to help lead its transformation into a traditional philanthropic organization. Serving as director of development since 2012, Eckenrode has driven strong industry partnerships to support collision training programs and their students, helping raise more than $300 million for collision repair education since 2009.

Eckenrode will succeed Clark Plucinski, who is retiring after serving as the executive director since 2012.

“I want to thank and recognize Clark for his leadership and work – not only as the organization’s executive director for the past nine years, but also as a past board chair and one of the original founders of CREF,” said Eckenrode. “I’m honored to have the opportunity to lead this organization. Thanks to Clark’s dedication, we are poised to build on tremendous momentum to help solve the industry’s need for properly trained, entry-level professionals.”


As part of his new role, Eckenrode will oversee the organization’s leadership team, which includes the addition of Amber Ritter as director of marketing and project management. Ritter has worked within the collision industry for 10 years and was integral to the formation of the Collision Career Institute (CCI), where she served as chief operating officer. Ritter will be joining fellow CREF staff members Melissa Marscin, director of operations and administration, and Tiffany Bulak, development and marketing coordinator.

“I look forward to working together with Amber, our incredible team and the industry to bring the foundation to the next level in supporting the high school and college collision programs, and helping to educate the public on the many career paths available to students within this industry,” said Eckenrode.


30th Anniversary

This year marks the 30th anniversary of CREF, which was originally founded in 1991 as the “I-CAR Education Foundation” by collision industry members recognizing the industry’s need for properly trained, entry-level staff.

The organization’s initial focus was to distribute I-CAR training curriculum to the high school and college collision programs around the country. Then, in 2008, I-CAR took the lead in distributing the curriculum to the schools, which allowed the Education Foundation to shift its focus to three main priorities: 1) attracting students to local collision school programs, 2) distributing in-kind/monetary donations to schools/students, and 3) connecting students with industry employers. The organization changed its name from the I-CAR Education Foundation to the Collision Repair Education Foundation, but it continues to work closely with I-CAR to help support the future professionals of the industry.


“CREF has a strong, 30-year legacy of leading the way to support the collision industry and develop its future workforce,” said Tom Wolf, chair of the CREF Board of Trustees and automotive refinish director of Strategic Accounts for PPG. “The Board of Directors thanks Clark Plucinski for his service in driving CREF’s mission forward and is eager to continue this important work with strong leadership from Brandon Eckenrode.”

For additional information about CREF and their work to support high school and college collision repair programs, students and instructors nationwide, visit or email [email protected].

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