Every Saturday, Longo Toyota in El Monte, Calif., temporarily adds to its staff of 600 employees.
Through a special fundraising program, the dealership offers community and school groups the chance to work in its service department for a day. In exchange, a group gets $500 for each four-hour shift toward its particular cause — as well as real-world job experience.
Since it started in 2012, roughly 4,500 students from 30 schools in 20 cities have helped Longo employees sort paperwork, clean cars and greet guests with coffee, among other duties.
Participants have included bands in need of new instruments and football teams working toward new uniforms.
"When you think about the opportunity to bring them into our dealership and give them a chance to see what we do ... it can really help benefit schools," said Longo Toyota CEO Greg Penske. The store belongs to Penske Motor Group.
Penske came up with the idea after driving past a car-wash fundraiser that wasn't drawing many cars, he said in a 2016 video about the program.
Instead of them waiting around for hours to make their quota, Penske felt he could give school groups the chance to make some money while easing the workload on his staff.
Most Saturdays, about 550 customers pass through Longo's service center. Longo, celebrating its 50th anniversary this year, is the largest Toyota dealership by volume in the U.S., with new and used vehicle sales of 20,095 in 2016.
Steven Armstrong, a 23-year-old who lives in El Monte, parlayed his experience from one fundraiser into a full-time job at the dealership.
Armstrong came there one weekend in 2012 as a member of the El Monte Police Explorers, a training program for teenagers interested in a law enforcement career. The group was raising money for new uniforms.
He had no prior experience in the automotive industry but said his day working at Longo left an impression.
"It seemed like a good place to work," he said. "The employees were really friendly."
After a second Saturday at the dealership, Armstrong spoke with a valet, who offered to recommend him for an open position. He applied and eventually was hired.
From there, Armstrong moved to security and now serves as the dealership's security manager, at one point earning Employee of the Month honors.
"Not only did the volunteer program give my program the $500, but it also gave me job experience. That was the best part of it," he said. "Doing what I was doing gave me better communications skills and better customer service skills."
Armstrong said he still plans to become a police officer and is grateful for what he has learned at Longo.
"It's really a community-oriented place, whether it's with guests or employees," he said. "One of the best parts about it are the people."
In addition to the students, the program inspires the dealership's regular employees.
"There's always a genuine source of pride for our team members; they're very engaged and happy to support any of our community outreach programs," said Vicki McCoy, Longo's director of marketing communications.
"These students are here to be part of the team, and it's an opportunity for our employees to become mentors to some extent, and they welcome that partnership."