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Mentoring Program Steers Chicago Youth Toward Auto-Restoration Careers

(CBS) -- Chicagoans are asking how to stop the violence. One man says he has a possible answer: teach troubled kids, even some with gang ties, how to fix cars.

It may sound crazy, but as CBS 2's Derrick Young reports, the program is working.

Alex Levesque uses vintage car restoration to show troubled young people -- often with previous gang ties -- a path away from violence.

"My belief is that the only way you can change what people do is if you change the way they think," he says.

Participants in the six-month Automotive Mentoring Group, or AMG, learn all aspects of auto restoration. It's all about teaching them to be good workers and giving them something productive to do.

"There's a large percentage of gang members that want to get out of that gang life," he says, "but they don't feel like they have an alternative."

Changing suspensions, welding and upholstery have become their alternatives. Abner Flores denies gang involvement but admits AMG is keeping him out of trouble.

"It's been a pretty good environment for me," he says. "Instead of doing things that can get us in trouble like with the police and stuff, instead of doing that, I'm over here learning."

So far, about 85 percent of AMG's more than 300 graduates have jobs and are accepting responsibility for their futures.

University of Illinos-Chicago Professor David DuBois studies mentoring and believes programs like AMG can help stop violence.

"You are giving that young person a path forward," he says. "That will help them steer clear of both being a victim of violence and also getting into situations where they may be part of violence."

With AMG's help, Abner recently got his GED and is applying to a program to study automotive technology.

"I want to continue doing better you know, I want to continuing going on forward," he says.

Financial support is AMG's biggest need. The costs of uniforms, tools, equipment and rent are high. Additionally, AMG is always happy to receive a donated car  and is always looking for people willing to be mentors.

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