The Collision Repair Education Foundation’s (CREF) purpose is to “support collision repair educational programs, schools and students to create qualified, entry-level employees and connect them with an array of career opportunities.” And based on that purpose, it’s fair to say that CREF enjoyed a lot of successes in 2022, with over $12 million in support distributed.
“CREF is incredibly proud of everything we accomplished last year … and we accomplished a lot,” said Brandon Eckenrode, managing director of CREF. “From school grants to scholarships to representation at various events around the country to raise awareness of the many wonderful opportunities available in this industry — none of this would have been possible without the continued support of our generous industry partners. By working together, we’re creating stronger school programs and a more qualified future workforce.”
For over 30 years, CREF has striven to help underfunded collision education programs by providing them with the resources needed to elevate the caliber of training offered to ensure graduates are prepared to successfully begin their careers in the industry, and this goal is accomplished in several ways.
In 2022, nearly 70 collision schools received CREF Benchmark Grants, totaling $436,000 and impacting over 35,000 students. Additionally, CREF distributed over $10 million worth of in-kind donations, including parts, products, quarter panels, subscriptions, safety equipment and more.
Demonstrating the industry’s commitment to their future careers, CREF’s efforts also extended directly to the next generation of collision repair professionals with over 4,000 uniforms given to students. Additionally, 46 students received nearly $150,000 in 2022 scholarships and tool grants funded by the foundation and its generous supporters.
CREF also works hard to raise awareness of the multitude of career opportunities available within the collision repair industry, and last year, they addressed this initiative in a number of productive ways. During the American School Counselor Association Conference, the foundation highlighted the collision repair industry as a viable and valuable career to over 4,000 school counselors, indirectly promoting that message to approximately 100,000 additional students those education professionals will encounter in the 2022-2023 school year alone
Through its 2022 Transportation Career Fairs, CREF directly connected industry employers with over 1,800 students interested in a collision or transportation industry career. More than 1,000 posters and hundreds of banners promoting the various opportunities were distributed to collision programs across the country to further promote the viability of a collision career.
CREF found opportunities to identify, highlight and elevate students actively pursuing an industry career through competitions, including the PiN Master event, held in conjunction with FinishMaster’s Hood Master Challenge. Students were given the opportunity to compete against each other by repairing, designing and painting retired bowling pins in an effort to showcase these students’ skills and to support the future of this industry. Over $13,000 was raised, plus four PiN Master winners were recognized:
- 1st place: Eric De La Cruz (Lincoln Tech; Indianapolis, Ind.)
- 2nd place: Colton Griggs (Kingwood Park High School, Houston, Texas)
- 3rd place: Erin Shannon (Lincoln Tech, Indianapolis, Ind.)
- Wild Card: Jordan Hoag (Cape Fear Community College, Wilmington, N.C.)
Art Meets Automotive provided students with a chance to design and create a project using their favorite skillset, with entries being displayed at CREF’s reception during SEMA 2022. Sixty contestants entered the contest, with 30 submissions being chosen to compete on social media. Ultimately, the foundation announced the winner as George Thomas (Ulster BOCES Career and Technical Center, Port Ewen, N.Y.).
As part of its efforts to promote its mission to the industry and to generate support, CREF holds two annual golf fundraisers, and in 2022, both events generated over $120,000 to be used to further advance collision schools and students.
CREF’s efforts are led by its executive committee and board of trustees, which consists of industry professionals who are dedicated to supporting the future of the industry through engagement with collision schools and students. These leaders offer guidance and encouragement, and without their devotion to the organization’s mission, CREF could not have enjoyed such a successful year. The foundation expresses its gratitude to its leadership team:
- Chair Steve Schmidt (State Farm)
- Vice Chair Kevin Burnett (Gerber Collision & Glass)
- Secretary Doug Irish (Fayetteville Technical Community College)
- Treasurer Ryan West (GEICO)
- Trustee-at-Large Don Mikrut (Wejo)
- Trustee-at-Large Brenda Hogan (Parts Trader)
- Immediate Past Chair Tom Wolf (PPG Industries)
- Stacy Bartnik (Intertek)
- Keith Bell (Axalta Coating Systems)
- Tom Brown (3M)
- Mike Croker (Chief Automotive)
- Paul Folino (LKQ Corporation)
- Ty Gammill (Caliber Collision Centers)
- Andreas Hecht (CCC Intelligent Solutions)
- Mark Helvenston (Insurance Auto Auctions)
- Ken Hudson (Farmers Insurance)
- Sean Huurman (Service King Collision Repair)
- Josh Krentz (Forbes Road Career and Technology Center)
- Sandee Lindorfer (Allstate Insurance Company)
- Mark Verbois (Enterprise Holdings)
- Trustee Emeriti J. Laurence “Larry” Costin (CCC Information Services, Inc.)
- Trustee Emeriti Lirel G. Holt (U, Inc.)
- Trustee Emeriti Chuck Sulkala
“The foundation is grateful to every individual and organization that donated funds and products, as well as all of our amazing volunteers,” Eckenrode said. “We’re addressing the technician shortage from every possible angle as we try to attract qualified talent to this field, but we rely on everyone’s involvement because we are stronger together. Let’s make 2023 an even more successful year!”
Industry members interested in getting involved and supporting CREF’s efforts to assist secondary and post-secondary collision repair training programs should contact CREF to learn about the many ways to get involved. Monetary donations can be made online.