Eggleston Automotive Center a Community Treasure For More Than 20 Years
Eggleston Automotive Center’s mission-driven focus combined with its unique business model make it more than another employment program offered by a nonprofit. Since 1999, it’s been a community institution, treasured not just because it provides jobs to people with disabilities. It also provides affordable cars to people who need them. “I’m very proud of what we’ve built,” said Paul Atkinson, Jr., Manager of Eggleston Automotive.
Eggleston operates multiple business enterprises that employ people with disabilities, including a garden center, document shredding, a farmers market and a business fulfillment center. Eggleston also contracts with federal, regional and local businesses to support branches of the government and the military in areas that range from laundry to custodial to food service. Add to that Eggleston Automotive, a service that accepts car donations, cleans and repairs them, and sells them at auction with proceeds supporting the overall vision of a more inclusive future.
When Paul J. Atkinson, Sr., CEO of Eggleston, started the vehicle donation program, his intention was to create an employment program that aligned operations with Eggleston’s mission of empowering and employing people with disabilities.
Opportunities are typically limited for individuals who need support to complete their job, particularly in automotive fields. But helping those with disabilities gain independence, confidence and increased feelings of self-worth is central to Eggleston’s core. The nonprofit dates back to 1955 when it opened as Tidewater Vocational Center, which helped seven people with disabilities. Today the organization serves hundreds through 33 programs and 22 locations. Its employment programs focus on reducing barriers so people with disabilities can lead full and productive lives.
Eggleston Automotive follows a distinctive business model, said Eggleston’s Danielle C. Nance, Vice President of Marketing and Development. “I’m not sure there’s anyone else who does things quite the way we do,” Nance said. “We take car donations, repair them mechanically, detail them and get them ready for auction, and then we handle all parts of that auction. We do everything, soup to nuts, as a nonprofit. Most nonprofits would shop that out to a third party.”
Running or not, any vehicle can be donated to Eggleston Automotive, which picks up donated vehicles free of charge. Next day pickup is available, and a tax deduction receipt is mailed. Donors encounter no DMV hassles. Eggleston Automotive handles all the pertinent paperwork. All that’s needed is a properly signed title.
Eggleston Automotive’s team of detailers — mostly people with disabilities — take over from there. They take pride in making the donated vehicle look as close to new as possible. Minor repairs are completed if necessary. Dedicated direct support professionals from Eggleston serve as job coaches, assisting those who need help overcoming barriers related to their disability. A job coach might spend a few hours, an entire day, a week or more with each individual based on that worker’s skill set, personal needs and level of comfort transitioning to the job. “The jobs at Eggleston Automotive are unique in the industry,” Atkinson, Jr. said. “Nationally, there are not many opportunities for this type of work in a supported employment setting. We are a more understanding employer.”
Too often, Nance said, organizations pigeonhole people with disabilities to accept any job. Eggleston strives to help people work in fields that interest them, among the reasons so many options with the company exist.
“While we also place people in competitive employment situations, it can be often challenging for those with significant disabilities to find work,” Atkinson, Sr. said. “Creating business enterprises like our garden center, our document shredding service and Eggleston Automotive are all ways for us to create different avenues for people to succeed in the area of their choosing.”
Once cars are detailed, they become part of Eggleston Automotive auction, typically held every other Saturday. Size of every auction ranges from approximately 40-60 cars. Eggleston prides itself in transparency and permits prospective buyers two days to preview the vehicles and access to notes about the car. Eggleston Automotive sends out email blasts to its bank of subscribers that number more than 7,000. Recent featured vehicles in the last email newsletter included a 2008 Dodge Caravan, a 2006 Lexus, a 2001 Volvo and a 2007 Ford Ranger, just to name a few.
On auction day, bidding begins at 9 a.m. at the North Military Highway facility, with doors opening an hour before.
“We have many repeat customers who get all their cars from us and bring friends and family when the need arises,” Atkinson, Jr. said. “We’ve built a car-buying community.”
In the last fiscal year, more than 1,400 car donations came into Eggleston and sold for $1.4 million. All the money received through the auction supports Eggleston’s programs. In fact, Atkinson, Jr. said, “The money we raise allows for programs which would otherwise not exist. Our auto auctions allow us to subsidize those programs and secure their continued existence.”
The scope of programs Eggleston offers individuals, families and businesses is vast. They include support services that promote community integration and inclusion, such as group day services that encourage peer interaction and skill building; one-on-one community coaching to minimize barriers disabled people face; and community engagement, which fosters relationship building and natural support systems for people with disabilities. Eggleston offers brain injury services, including case management and a Beacon House program that focuses on the abilities of those who have sustained a traumatic brain injury. Residential services range from group homes to in-home support.
Although the past few years have posed challenges for Eggleston Automotive, auctions continued without interruption even during the height of the pandemic. Eggleston Automotive closely followed CDC, federal, and state guidance and implemented risk mitigation strategies to remain open. For nearly a year starting in March 2020, sealed bid auctions replaced live auctions. “When we were able to resume live auctions on April 10 last year, there was significant enthusiasm from our auction attendees,” Atkinson, Jr. said. “We are extremely grateful to those who chose to support.”
More challenges continue to mount for Eggleston Automotive, as fewer donations have come in during a time when used cars fetch a premium price due to an overall lack of supply. At the same time, catalytic converters are in increased demand, and as many as 30 have been stolen from the donated cars parked inside the fenced Eggleston Automotive lot.
While Atkinson, Jr. is hoping to mitigate the problem with enhanced security and increased lighting, Eggleston Automotive has canceled its two scheduled auctions (July 2 and 16) and will hold its next auction on July 30. Nonetheless, Atkinson, Jr. is confident that Eggleston Automotive will remain a vital community resource. “Our donors are the backbone of the operation,” he said. “Not everyone who believes in our mission is in a position to support us financially or with a car. However, those who are allow us to do our work in this community. Their donation represents jobs, funds, and a second life for their car. I also distinguish us from other operations in this way: We are local. The benefit of any gift stays in Hampton Roads. That’s why I have no doubt we will persevere through these times. We’re grateful to be part of a community that never lets us down.”
To donate a car to Eggleston Automotive, call 866-386-GIVE or visit this link. To be added to Eggleston Automotive’s email list, visit eggleston.dm.networkforgood.com/forms/email-signup. To change the life of an individual with a disability through a monetary donation, click here.