Auto shop is ministry for returning soldiers

Auto shop is ministry for returning soldiers

September 3rd, 2010 by Ellis Smith in Business Around the Region

Staff photo by Jake Daniels/Chattanooga Times Free Press -- Aug 26, 2010 James Luck and his uncle Kevin Luck work on a vehicle on Thursday afternoon. Iraq War veterans Luck and Morgan Lewis, both of whom have recently returned from overseas, have started up the Luck's Repair Shop in Soddy-Daisy, where they're trying to give back to the community by offering cheap car repair and maintenance services.

In an about-face, James Luck went from dodging insurgents along Iraq's treacherous roads to fighting bad transmissions in his Soddy-Daisy repair shop last month.

When he returned here in July, Luck had finished a tour of duty spent moving equipment from Iraq's interior to the coast to accommodate the drawdown in forces under way there, he said.

Now, he works with his uncle, his father and several volunteers to repair vehicles at cost, taking no salary for himself or his foreman, childhood friend and fellow soldier Morgan Lewis.

"We're basically saving 30 to 50 percent off the price [of a typical repair] by taking out labor," Luck said, adding that he takes "just enough to keep the shop running."

He still draws a salary from the Army, which covers personal expenses.

Luck saw a "for-rent" sign on an old garage on Dayton Pike one day, decided to contact the owner and opened the shop Aug. 2, with the goal of putting his skills to use "serving the community," he said.

"When I first got back from Iraq, Morgan and I were talking about what we wanted to do as far as helping people," Luck said. "This is just another way to help out."

He's not fixing engines for free following a near-death experience in battle, to honor a fallen comrade or to fill a quota of community service hours. He's not even doing it because of the region's economic troubles.

He said he doing it simply "as a ministry."

"This was a step of faith on our part," Luck said. "You need a vehicle, the number one thing people need around here is transportation to find or sustain a job."

In the short time since he opened Luck's Repair Shop, he's taken steps to partner with the Freedom Worship Center, a local church on Dayton Pike, to help "trustworthy, honest people who really need help" to get transportation for work.

Mike Battles, senior pastor at the Freedom Worship Center, said that the plan could be in motion by the beginning of 2011.

The program will involve "finding donated cars that we could fix up and donate to people who do not have transportation," Battles said. "James has always been one to be involved; he's always been one I can count on."

Luck also runs an apprentice program to teach area youths the ins and outs of the repair business, which also helps him maintain enough laborers in the building to keep his nearly zero-profit business running.

Lewis, the shop's foreman and a former Army medic who recently came back from Iraq, said he has no problem working at cost to fix cars.

He still serves in the National Guard some weekends, drawing a salary that helps make ends meet.

"I can work on cars or humans, it doesn't matter," Lewis said. "As long as I can feed my youngsters, put a roof over my head and take care of my family, I'm happy."

Luck still serves in active duty at a base in Smyrna, Ga., working for the army during the day before driving up to Soddy-Daisy in the evening to fix cars in his fatigues.

He has one year left on his military commitment.