ATLANTA, Ga. (CBS46) -- The First Presbyterian Church of Atlanta decided over the last year that service should have a lasting impact.

They wanted to use their money and resources to help fund the business venture of social entrepreneurs who are out to change lives and communities long-term.

The Epiphany initiative at the church kicked off a social venture pitch competition modeled after the television show “Shark Tank.” Nearly 90 people applied and about 20 businesses were chosen. Five ventures received funding from a pool of $250,000. 

Larry Witherspoon Jr. and his company Automotive Training Center was one of the recipients. He and his co-founder Shawn McHargue took home $65,000 to improve their company which trains at-risk young men to become auto mechanics.

Morius Street found a new passion in life and the perfect place to hone skills for a job as a car mechanic while participating in the ATC program. He came to the repair garage in East Point Friday afternoon to work on a car.

“Seeing how Shawn and Larry are professional, it makes me want to be like these guys,” Street told CBS46’s Hayley Mason. “It makes me want to be the best that I can,” he added. 

Larry Witherspoon started the company after he decided to combine his love for cars and mentorship. He says his father was an inner-city teacher, coach and youth mentor. The program is modeled for at-risk young men ages 15 to 25. 

“Not all our students have criminal records, but a lot of them come from at-risk neighborhoods with gang violence and drug activity and we give them a positive outlet,” Witherspoon said.

Witherspoon wants the company to grow. He wants to add a more advanced instructor to teach students more technology-based repair skills that will make them more marketable for higher-paying auto repair jobs. 

Ellen Adair Wyche and her team with Epiphany are helping connect Witherspoon and his team with top car companies.

She says the Epiphany team is comprised of church members who are committed to helping the companies beyond the initial award money. 

“We are more interested in how to create a sustained and ongoing ability in the individuals who are ready to provide and fend for themselves,” said Wyche, who is the ministry leader at the First Presbyterian Church’s Epiphany initiative. “We believe this promotes dignity. This promotes equality. This promotes social justice in ways that just giving a handout or a one-time opportunity does not do,” Wyche added. 

Instead of using church money simply to feed the homeless and clothe the poor, the church is hoping to create a long-term commitment and partnership.

“The more students we are able to help it’s a win-win for society to get them back in the job field,” Witherspoon said. “So, the Epiphany project is helping us hire an additional instructor to start an advance level program and to grow our current programs.” 

Witherspoon says they have already trained 150 students in just five years. He says winning the pitch competition will allow them to hire a new instructor two years before they expected to be able to do so.

The next round of the pitch competition will kick off Monday, Jan. 6, which is Epiphany Sunday in the Christian church.

For more information on the program and the contest by clicking here.

Copyright 2019 WGCL-TV (Meredith Corporation). All rights reserved.


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