The center gets 130 or more applications per year. Around 100 candidates get interviews, and 30 are eventually selected to participate. The typical age is 18 or 19.
"It comes down to what does the individual student really want? It's not what the judge wants, it's not what the rehab person wants, it's not what the probation officer wants," Routley said. "I mean, most kids, they don't want to be law breakers, they don't want to be drug addicts, they don't want to be homeless or without a job. So it's just filtering through that group of 100 candidates and trying to find the ones that are most ready for the opportunity."
Moran often called the program the "pride and glory" of his accomplishments, Routley said. Despite running the vast JM Family Enterprises, Moran found time to routinely meet with students and also met weekly with Routley.
"It was always about the kids — what are we doing, are we helping them? That was his whole vision and philosophy," he said.
Moran's work was not without controversy. The origin of the center goes back to a charge of income tax evasion, to which Moran pleaded guilty and resolved through community service and the center's creation, Automotive News has reported.
A helping hand
Every year before graduation, at least one or two students start to "self-destruct" and behave uncharacteristically out of a fear of success and the expectations that follow. To counter that, instructors and counselors try to build relationships early on.
"We had a young man who was coming to school regularly and was doing well, and all of a sudden he just stopped," Routley said. "We didn't see him for a week, so we went out to his house, and then we found out that his shoes got stolen and he had no shoes, and so he quit coming to school — again, you just don't understand the obstacles that some of these kids go through"
Romero went through his own obstacles.
At one point, his car broke down, and the center helped repair his vehicle and provided gas money when money was tight. And when Romero fell ill, he visited JM Family's on-site doctor, which is free to all students.
After graduation, Romero landed an apprenticeship at JM Family's JM Lexus dealership of Margate, Fla. He still works there as a body shop technician. After his travails, Romero calls the opportunity a blessing.
"I wasn't really in the best place to do anything, let alone raise a child and become a parent," Romero said. "I wasn't going to be a good role model, and I wouldn't have been able to provide the way that I can now because of what [the training center] and JM Lexus have done for me."
The center continues to offer a helping hand to students after graduation, Routley said, sometimes up to three years after graduation.
"It's a messy process straightening out some of these lives, and if we just said, 'OK, nine months you're done, see you later,' we wouldn't have the success that we do," Routley said. "But because [Moran] thought it was important to stick with these guys, that's what makes the impact."