Chicago mentor fights gang violence with wrenches

(CBS News) CHICAGO -- Alex Levesque's body shop is on Chicago's tough southwest side. The 56-year-old former architect always loved cars -- and kids of a certain kind.

"I'm looking for the disenfranchised," Levesque says. "The gang members running around aimlessly doing crimes because they don't feel they have any other options to be successful."

Almost all have records and gang ties.

"Finally, it was put on my heart: What about you?" he says. "Are you willing to step up? Are you willing to sacrifice something? How can you use these cars to save lives?"

With money from his own pocket and some donations, Levesque gives them a chance to restore their lives along with the jalopies. Any profits go back to the shop.

"When you're able to put some tools in a young man's hands and he's able to learn how to use ratchets and cutting tools and a torch, there's something magical about that," he says. "When that happens, it turns boys into men."

Chicago gang violence shows no signs of stopping

Levesque doesn't have children, but he says the ones he mentors are almost like his own.

"It's interesting because they want to feel that kind of connection. So they say, 'You're like the father I never had,' and then I usually respond by saying, 'You're like the son I never wanted,'" Levesque jokes. "We're just kind of rebuilding the foundation."

In five years, Levesque has mentored 300 people. Jonas Jacox has worked in the shop since last month.

"I did like 12 years in the penitentiary, and I'm trying to do something different," says Jacox. "I was in jail for a lot at the same time -- murder, gun cases. If I didn't have a situation where I know can come in here and build my skills and have a career in the future, I would be plotting on how I was going to pay my bills."

"They just want somebody to put their arm around them and tell them, 'You did a good job,'" Levesque says. "And that's what I do."

The things that come into the body shop are banged up and neglected, but thanks to Alex Levesque, they leave in much better shape.

For more information on the Automotive Mentoring Group contact: or call (773) 563-0034.

  • Dean Reynolds

    Dean Reynolds is a CBS News National Correspondent based in Chicago.