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This blog is part two of a two-part series.

A photo of the Equip Skills Center garage. A few people are at work in the garage under a banner that reads "Give life to your work."Last month readers were introduced to Luke Walker, an energetic and highly motivated entrepreneur in Columbus, Ohio who built a fledging one-stall independent shop into a well-oiled machine. His shop, Luke’s Auto Inc., is poised to reach nearly $5 million in parts and service sales in 2021.

This month, we would like to continue Luke’s incredible story by sharing the new challenges that Luke has set his sights on. Giving back to the community is a priority that has always been near and dear to Luke’s heart. His business has already been donating an astounding twenty percent of its profits to charity. But Luke has set his philanthropic sights even higher and it’s no surprise that his new ambition is based in nonprofit work.

A portrait of Luke Walker

To understand Luke’s latest passion, a little background is necessary. In 2017, there were two auto-related nonprofit, charitable organizations in the Columbus area, both run by an organization called “Youth For Christ” (YFC.) One, YFC Wheels, offered basic automotive maintenance and repair training for at-risk youth and was run out of a small three-bay garage. The other organization, Hire Level Auto, focused on the sales of donated cars that were repaired and refurbished. One-hundred percent of the profits provided funds to serve at-risk youth. Both organizations had been operating in central Ohio for nearly 20 years and had produced some great successes. For example, Hire Level Auto had employed several students who completed the YFC Wheels training program and went on to develop successful careers as automotive technicians. Although many success stories came out of these programs, the fact that the two facilities were on opposite sides of town, and that distance, as well as their small staff sizes, made it difficult for the programs to gain meaningful traction.

With no one available to fill the manager’s shoes the sales operation was struggling and the training program was forced to close its doors. Luke learned of the situation and agreed to step in...

Luke’s involvement in the summer of 2017, was prompted by the unexpected retirement of the manager of both YFC Wheels and Hire Level Auto, six months previously, due to health reasons. With no one available to fill the manager’s shoes the sales operation was struggling and the training program was forced to close its doors. Luke learned of the situation and agreed to step in and get the program up and running again. The longer he worked with YFC wheels, the more certain Luke became that their approach to learning was a model that had the potential to be expanded upon, and by doing so would make an even greater impact on the community. Soon, he began to hatch plans to bring the business models for both YFC Wheels and Hire Level Auto together under one roof.

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The plans to expand YFC began to take hold when the pastor and leadership team at Dwell Christian Fellowship, the church where Luke was an active member, became aware of his work at YFC Wheels and his ambition to expand its program. As luck would have it, the church happened to own a vacant 12,000 sq ft. building, a facility that they thought just might be the perfect solution for Luke’s plans. The leadership team approached Luke, and after lengthy discussions, the church generously agreed to rent the building to YFC for one dollar a year.

After landing a building, Luke next set his sights on signing sponsors. Luke first approached NAPA Auto Parts, who agreed to come on board as a major sponsor. That sponsorship turned out to be key in providing many of the resources that pulled the program together for launch. Though NAPA has been the primary sponsor, other organizations have donated as well, including Luke’s Auto, Inc. and Lindsay Honda, a local dealership. Individual contributors have also played a significant role with a number of people stepping forward. Most notable were two church members who asked to remain anonymous, but very generously contributed $50,000 and $30,000 respectively.

On May 22nd, 2021, Luke’s vision and years of work came to fruition with the grand opening of Equip Skills Center and Equip Auto Sales, both under one roof.

After securing a space and organizing sponsors, the next challenge for Luke was finding volunteers to teach the auto maintenance courses. Over time, enough people have stepped forward that YFC Wheels now boasts a staff of nearly 25 instructors. They hail from all walks of life. Some are professional working technicians. Many are retirees, who are mechanically inclined and just love cars and people. A number of college students have joined the ranks as well. They all share a common bond, a passion for Luke’s vision to help the community, and a commitment to be part of the process.

On May 22nd, 2021, Luke’s vision and years of work came to fruition with the grand opening of Equip Skills Center and Equip Auto Sales, both under one roof. The grand opening was a huge success, attracting over 200 attendees. Guests toured the facility, while volunteer instructors provided demonstrations on each of the five workstations that are taught to students.

A student and mentor work together on a brake assembly in the Equip Skills Center garage.

Evidence that the organization is on the right track can be seen by its steady growth. Approximately 200 students have attended an introduction class since 2017, but nearly 100 of those have been in just the past year. Projections call for doubling this rate to 400 students completing an introduction class over the next 2 years, with 60 of those 400 students taking advanced classes or being placed with an employer. Because of this consistent growth, Luke was recently able to justify the need for the organization’s first full-time employee, whose responsibility it will be to manage and grow the program. With financial assistance from NAPA, that paid position will soon be filled.

It is always heartwarming to hear stories of young men and women like Luke who are able to realize their dreams of opening their own shop and going into business for themselves. More inspiring still, is when the hard work and passion that drove their entrepreneurial success expands into an even larger mission, one of giving back. Luke has been, and continues to be, the driving force behind an organization whose mission it is “to help youth identify and cultivate being gifted to work with their hands”. In doing so, he is giving back by not only helping meet the needs of the local community, but by supporting the future of the industry in which he achieved his success.

And if you know Luke, you know he truly does it all with an attitude of gratitude.


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