Florida car dealer Loren Sheffer cheerfully invites former thieves, drug dealers and other convicted felons into his Delray Beach, Fla., dealership.
He sees them as young people in need of another chance - possibly as automotive technicians.
Eighteen former dropouts are students at an alternative high school, chartered by the state of Florida and operating inside Sheffer's dealership. It is the Delray Beach Youth Vocational Charter School.
On the strength of his work with the school and other community involvement, the American International Automobile Dealers Association named Sheffer dealer of the year. AIADA leaders presented the award at the association's Automotive Congress in Washington last week.
"I want to see that deal go national," said Sheffer of the dealership charter school. He is its board president. Sheffer owns Borton Volvo-Volkswagen in Delray Beach.
He credits two Delray Beach police officers for coming to him with plans for the school. It receives some state and city funding. Money also is raised through donations.
The school's first graduation is next month. All 18 students have passed basic skills tests. Six qualify for diplomas, and several are enrolling in community college, Sheffer said.
The dealer of the year award replaces AIADA's former All-Star Dealer program.
AIADA Chairman Tim Smith said that this year the organization tried to conduct more professional screening, involving outside experts on volunteerism and community service.
Other finalists for the dealer of the year award were: