By Akil Wilson, Special to the AFRO

A District of Columbia program is educating residents from some of the city’s most underserved neighborhoods in one of today’s most in demand trades. The Excel Automotive Institute, located at 1235 Kenilworth Ave. NE, teaches the fundamentals of automotive technology in a classroom setting as well as a fully equipped repair shop.

The Excel Automotive Institute was founded in 1998 by George Stark, a former Washington football team player. When Stark retired he opened a car dealership. Unable to properly staff the business due to a lack of qualified technicians in the area, he decided to do something about it.

Students at Excel Automotive Institute in Northeast, Washington, D.C. (Courtesy Photo)

Along with co-founder Jack Lyon, Starr approached a number of private organizations and government agencies to secure the funding for the project and Excel was established. Today, Excel functions as a non-profit and is free of charge to qualified District residents. Excel is currently the only automotive technology training school within the District of Columbia.

Lead instructor Alfonso Galvez has been involved with Excel for over 12 years and describes the program as an opportunity for “a lot of men and women to get back into the game.”Excel Institute provides lessons, books and resources to prepare students to take a number of certification exams in the automotive industry.

Students come into the program and begin with the fundamentals of automotive technology and electronic system components then move on to learning everything from brakes and suspensions to engines and transmissions. Galvez said the program is most helpful, “for those that are really looking to pursue this as a career.”

Excel is a fully functional school graduating a class every year since its inception. Students receive education and certifications that allow them to become successful automotive technicians, as well as job placement assistance with leading auto brands such as Honda, Toyota and Volkswagen who provide funding and support for the school as well.

Longtime instructor and veteran mechanic Eddie Cathey said watching students matriculate through the program and go on to have their own careers gives him “energy.” Lead instructor Galvez added, “We have seen a lot of success stories, we saw how they entered and now some of these guys are making more money than we do.”

Some of Excel’s former students have returned to the school and become instructors. Adjunct instructor Roscoe McCormick is one such case, graduating from the Institute in 2010, and returning after working in the service department for Volkswagen among other top automobile makers. “Mr. Galvez was my instructor through 3-4 courses that really allowed me to pass my ASE [automotive service excellence] certification,” he said.  “Him staying there really did a lot for me.”

Current student Deven Hallums said Excel changed his life by motivating him to challenge himself.  “Excel has given me the opportunity to step outside of my comfort zone and taught me a skill that I can literally take everywhere.”

Excel is continuing to educate its students and is always recruiting. When asked about the future of the Institute lead instructor Galvez said “I just want to see this place flooded with guys (and ladies) who want to learn.”

The next session begins on November 22. For more information about Excel Automotive Institute check out the website excelautomotiveinstitute.org.

A previous version of this story was printed with the name of founder, George Stark’s name spelled incorrectly, and the year the Institute began.