This year, Black Hills Tire of Rapid City, South Dakota, set out to do just that. Camp DRIVE, a two-day automotive camp for kids aged 12 through 15, was launched to teach kids about automotive maintenance and to meet professionals in the field.
Tenise Chapman, co-owner of Black Hills Tire, alongside her husband, Weston Chapman, shared with Ratchet+Wrench how this project came to life and the impact it had on Rapid City youth.
An Ambitious Idea
The idea was conceived after Chapman’s staff attended a six-month leadership class on the east side of the state. She wondered why such an event did not exist in her region and began to consider launching something similar.
“And I said, ‘Wait a second, we need to do something for kids!’ Like, we love kids, we don't have our own kids and we're always talking about how we need to grow the industry,” Chapman recalls.
Like a sports, music or science camp, Chapman wanted to create one that would let kids learn about and perform automotive work.
Black Hills Tire has many young employees, so Chapman asked her staff if they thought they would have been interested in something like Camp DRIVE at an early age.
Not only did her staff think it was a good idea, they were fully on board to help. Chapman had five sessions ranging around 30 minutes, each taught by a staff member to rotating groups of children: a brake session, an electrical session, a tire session, a suspension session and an engine session.
“I loved teaching the kids!” says staff member Adrian Cox on his experience being the instructor for the alignment sessions. “Being able to teach skills like that to a group of younger kids whose parents may not have the time/mechanical knowledge to teach them at home was really fulfilling!”
Chapman’s staff implored her to see if a popular automotive YouTuber and instructor named Paul "Scanner" Danner would be interested in attending Camp DRIVE. Though Danner is in Pennsylvania, when he learned more about Camp DRIVE, he was eager to be involved. He agreed to travel to South Dakota in exchange for the Chapmans renting him a camper to visit Badlands National Park with his son.
“I found that it’s an event for young kids—11 to 15-year-olds—to get them involved in and interested in the automotive field, and I had not seen anything like this done before by anyone, and there’s not too many people that are doing something like this,” recounts Danner. “I said, ‘I gotta be here, I need to be part of it.’”
Black Hills Tire also has a strong relationship with the local police department, which would come to speak at Camp DRIVE. The National Guard also agreed to come and discuss careers in the organization for automotive technicians.
The Surprising Launch
After around a year of planning, Camp DRIVE was announced this past January, but sign-ups were not open until April.
“I was like, ‘Oh my gosh, we're putting all this work into this, my staff is doing such a good job at creating these fun, hands-on sessions for these kids–what if we don't have any kids sign up?’ That was my biggest fear. I was just terrified,” Chapman says with a laugh.
She now finds the memory amusing, knowing now that once sign-ups were open, she would immediately be overloaded with applications to attend Camp DRIVE. Though she feared they could not even meet the set threshold of 25 kids, they received over twice that with 57 applicants.
As the kids progressed through the sessions, Chapman could see they were having fun and were interested in learning how they could do this as a career someday.
After seeing the success of Camp DRIVE and the smiling faces it brought, Chapman hopes not only to accept more kids next year but also to create a Camp DRIVE for older teens that will go more in-depth and connect them with trade schools and career opportunities.
“I was walking around during Camp DRIVE … and this one kid goes, ‘Do you know what you want to do when you grow up?’ And the other kid goes, ‘This–I want to do this!’ And the other kid goes, ‘Me too, this is so cool,’” remembers Chapman.