DEERFIELD BEACH – Uron Wilson was only 15 when, he says, a violent and abusive home life forced him to live on the streets and fend for himself. On his own with no support system, Wilson was unsure of where to go next.
It wasn’t until he entered the Youth Automotive Training Center (YATC) in 1994 — after being referred by a Broward County judge — that he realized he could have a more hopeful future.
Wilson remembers how skeptical he was at first of the YATC instructors and staff, who wanted to help him get clothing, food and an apartment and expressed genuine concern for his welfare.
“The people at YATC showed me a different way of living in the world — a way to live without violence,” Wilson told 800 supporters of the program during the recent 2013 Jim Moran Classic held at the Hyatt Regency Grand Cypress in Orlando. “I couldn’t imagine people doing this much for others and not asking for something in return. Their kindness helped steer me in the right direction.”
Breaking away from the negative influences in his life proved challenging for Wilson and he had multiple bouts of trouble, ending up in jail even after graduating from YATC in 1995. However, with the unwavering support of the YATC community, he says, he has operated his own automotive repair shop for five years while raising four children.
Established by JM Family Enterprises founder Jim Moran in 1984, the mission of the Youth Automotive Training Center is to train and educate at-risk youth in basic automotive repair, academic remediation, job readiness and life management skills.
The goal of the program is to prepare young adults who are at a disadvantage in their lives to become self-sufficient, productive law-abiding citizens. Students are referred to YATC through a variety of ways, including through the departments of Juvenile Justice and Children and Families, as well as YATC graduates, clergy and word-of-mouth.
At the annual 2013 Jim Moran Classic was supported by some 300 individuals and corporations. The two days of golf and tennis and a banquet raised enough funds to cover the yearly operating expenses of the program. Current YATC student Connor Doyle joined Wilson as a guest speaker.
Doyle is no stranger to the court system, either, having been in and out of trouble since sixth grade on criminal charges ranging from drug possession to forgery. At 15, he was sentenced to a substance-abuse rehabilitation program and subsequently spent time in several juvenile detention facilities.
In July 2012, Doyle received a one-year jail sentence. The judge handed him a YATC brochure and told him to look into it when he was released. Even before his sentence was completed, Doyle wrote to YATC pleading his case, completed the application and interview process and started what he calls “the beginning of my new lease on life.”
Doyle, now 20, has set goals for his future that include remaining drug-free, attending school every day and expanding his automotive skills.
“I really appreciate and am grateful for the opportunity I am receiving here at YATC,” Doyle said. “Nobody is judging me and I can’t fail. I have everyone’s support. To a guy like me, that puts me ahead of the game.”
Since opening its doors, YATC has evolved from a one-room training center in Hollywood to a 16,000-square-foot facility in Deerfield Beach featuring technical and academic classrooms, a computer learning center/library, state-of-the-art automotive shop, conference room and fitness area.
“My husband started YATC to give second chances to at-risk young adults who needed encouragement and a caring support system to turn their lives around,” said Jan Moran. “He would be very proud that the school continues providing its students and graduates with a strong academic and technical foundation, plus valuable life skills to help them achieve their goals.”
Of the nearly 600 students who have completed the program, 141 have received their GEDs. Last year’s class set a record when 14 of the students earned their GEDs.
More than 90 percent of graduates are employed, furthering their education or serving in the armed forces. Thirty-two graduates hold Auto Service Excellence certification qualifying them as Certified Technicians, while 40 graduates on scholarship through YATC have earned or are pursuing an associate’s degree or bachelor’s degree.
Alumni of the program, along with their families, continue to receive assistance to keep them on the right track for success.
“YATC has had an incredible impact on so many young people and their families since Jim Moran established the program nearly three decades ago,” said Terry Routley, executive director of YATC. “Thanks to his vision and the support of our generous sponsors and friends in the community, we will continue preparing disadvantaged kids for a better future.”