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As published on May 16, 2005 . Page 6 . OAKLAND TECH NEWS . Oakland County, MI

Non-Profit Group to Offer Free Automotive Technician Courses to the Underprivileged
Motown Automotive Professionals to Train Youth

By Irena Granaas Staff Reporter

A group of automobile enthusiasts want to "drive" underprivileged young people on to success and pass on their passion for cars to the next generation.

Toward that end, several members of the Motown Automotive Professionals (MAP) launched a non-profit organization in 2003. Entitled "Motown Automotive Professionals nonprofit", it was founded by MAP members Marcus Simmons, president of the nonprofit group, along with Sylvester Gurley and George Glenn, for the purpose of offering underprivileged youth in the metropolitan Detroit area free training to become nationally-certified automotive technicians.

In a recent interview, Simmons, a Southfield resident, discussed the non-profit organization's plans to open up for classes in September 2005.

"Our group works with underprivileged youth who don't have the funds or the opportunity to go to college," he said.

Simmons explained that the original club is a casual social gathering of people who are interested in cars, from show cars, to racecars, to street rods. He explained that without access to training or education after high school, underprivileged youth are at risk for getting into trouble.

"So we want to give our love of cars to this generation so they can become productive members of the community," he said. 

The non-profit group, which started with the aforementioned three members, grew to a membership of seven after the group began getting some publicity, including a 2004 feature aired by Channel 2-FOX News.

 "Presently, we are waiting for 501(c)(3) non-profit certification from the IRS," Simmons said. "We should have that by the end of June."

The non-profit group has unsigned contracts with the Salvation Army for classroom space for the September startup, and organizers expect that once they receive 501(c)(3) nonprofit status they will be able to set up a more permanent facility of their own rather than renting space.

Simmons said the non-profit group would have several certified teachers on hand to teach the curriculum. He noted that the group decided to train their students to the national level of certification because it's a tougher standard than the state demands and will make them more marketable.

In the meantime, Simmons has been making the rounds of various schools in the Detroit metro area, talking to students about opportunities in the motor sports field.

"Also, I do presentations on goal setting," he said.

He speaks to troubled teens one-on-one or in large groups, working to inspire them to choose positive goals.

Just meeting Simmons ought to get high schoolers thinking about setting loftier goals for themselves.

Simmons, a mechanical engineer who retired after 20 years at GM, is blind and also has lost a large percentage of his hearing.

He suffered those losses due to an inherited condition, Usher's Syndrome, in which hearing loss is coupled with retinitis pigmentosa.

He attended the Detroit Day School for the Deaf, and then graduated from Cass Technical High School in 1963. He received his bachelor's degree in mechanical engineering from Wayne State University in 1977.

The retinitis pigmentosa took his sight gradually, and until 1980, he was still able to drive. He admits, however, that towards the end his driving depended on a combination of skill, memory and luck, and luck was running out. This was fortunate as he was able to drive himself from home to school and back.

"The Lord was kind enough to let me keep my eyesight so I could finish school," Simmons explained.

He was left with only 10 percent of his vision and 30 percent of his hearing. But he didn't let that stop him.

Simmons overcame these challenges and spent 40 successful years in the automotive service field.

After earning his engineering degree from WSU, he worked as an automotive engineer with GM, gaining experience in every position held by the workers under him. He worked as a research technician, in dealerships, service stations and on drafting boards.

After losing his eyesight, Simmons built a replica of a 1965 Shelby 427 S/C Cobra from the ground up. A Boss 302 Ford engine with a Gale Banks twin turbocharger powers the vehicle.

The auto technician program the non-profit group is organizing will accept underprivileged male and female students in the metropolitan Detroit region who are either high school graduates, or who have dropped out but can show they have a real desire to become technicians.

The minimum age is 16, but there is no set upper age limit.

Simmons emphasized, however, that this is not an invitation for anyone now in school to drop out.

"We're not taking them if they're going to quit school to come here," he stated firmly.

Those interested in supporting Motown Automotive Professionals nonprofit or anyone who wants to attend classes in the Fall can go to the official website at www.map-n.org; or call Simmons at (248) 552-8928.