Where 3rd Street and Palou Avenue meet, it wouldn't be difficult to make some poor choices. Gang activity, drinking, drugs and violence are no stranger here. At the corner of that chaos, there is a sort of sanctuary. But this is no church.
"We work on bad a** old American muscle cars." Jordan Langer is the man who installed a new auto shop for at-risk teens in a neighborhood full of challenges. He calls it "Project Wreckless."
"Cars are the catalyst, cars are cool," Langer said. "They're loud, they're obnoxious, they're bright, they're colorful and all of these really cool things. A common denominator for the youth of this neighborhood and something that is very, very important to me."
For the past few months, every Friday night, seven teens put on coveralls with "Project Wreckless" logos on them and get to work restoring old cars. No experience is necessary. All the tools are provided and mentors from the community teach the youth the difference between disc and drum brakes.
These expert mechanics help teens like 14-year-old Christian Ordonez install an engine.
"I do get in trouble a lot," Ordonez admits. "Not necessarily anymore because I have something to look forward to."
That's what Jordan Langer has been hoping to hear. As president of "Non Plus Ultra," a San Francisco company that rents out event venues, he could easily write a check to a charity and call it a day. But this life-long gear-head wanted to do more. "I was thinking about what is really going to help change the world in a better way," he said. "There's not a lot of blue collar, work with your hands, get down and dirty programs."
So, he made one. And he did so with some actual stakes attached. The 1965 Mustang on the lift is his. "This is the last car that I ever drove with my grandfather in," Langer said. "And that shows the faith that I have in them and that we all need to have in some of these youth that are just not given the opportunity. All they need is the opportunity."
One of the first young people to get involved in the program is Sheldon Kilpack. There is some irony in how the 18-year-old found the program. "Two years ago, I got arrested for reckless driving without a license. My case manager was looking to help me find a job and we came upon Project Wreckless." Today, in addition to the Friday night meetings, Kilpack travels with the Project Wreckless racing team.
My middle school shop teacher took a project away from me & finished it because I was so hopeless. Today, I go to a new garage where mentors take at-risk SF youth & teach them how to restore American classic cars. @ProjectWreckles airs at 4 #abc7now #SoButch pic.twitter.com/zYRU49nzpd— Reggie Aqui (@reggieaqui) October 26, 2018
Sheldon Kilpack is well on his way to an auto-related career. The founder of the project says that's a great outcome, but not the main point of the program. "The purpose of Project Wreckless is to create better people," Jordan Langer said.
It is still early on in the life of the nonprofit, but if student Christian Ordonez is any indication, it seems as if they're off to the races.
"I feel comfortable telling them about my personal problems," the ninth-grader says. "It's like my second family."
Project Wreckless is taking applicants for its next class. For info on the program, click here.
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