AACF: Lending a Hand to the Auto Care Industry

Jan. 4, 2024
The Automotive Aftermarket Charitable Foundation helps those in the auto care industry who are struggling.

For many in the auto care industry, their careers have grown from passion and dedication into lasting success, but life events–such as illnesses and natural disasters–can destroy years’ worth of work in only a fraction of the time it took to build.

Many in the industry have found themselves in this situation, and it can affect not only them but families and local communities as well.

In a time when talent is needed in the aftermarket field more than ever, Automotive Aftermarket Charitable Foundation (AACF) Executive Director Joel Ayres wants to reach as many people as possible to help those in need recover from tragedy and to empower the industry.

Helping Families and Communities

From an individual technician struggling with illness to a family-owned shop ravaged by a natural disaster, AACF handles a broad range of situations and issues, each with its own solution.

The main requirement to qualify for help from AACF is that an individual must be employed with an aftermarket business for at least a year or have worked three continuous years for various aftermarket businesses.

In the case of natural disasters, AACF can provide those in the industry with food, shelter, and other necessities needed until they can get back on their feet.

“After the hurricanes and the floods in Texas, Louisiana, and Florida, we had people that were sleeping in their car, their business was wiped out, their homes were wiped out, and they lost everything,” Ayres recounts. “So, we were able to–in that case–able to get some of those people into hotels.”

Oftentimes, it is not the individual themselves receiving the help, but their family members.

Having a background working with children’s charities, the cases involving kids have been especially memorable for Ayres. In the past, the organization has given support to children of those in the industry, such as providing a service dog for an autistic child who kept escaping from home or supplying funds for parents to enjoy the time they have left with their severely ill child.

AACF has always had a focus on helping families in the industry, such as covering bills or funeral expenses for those suffering a recent loss. It’s how the organization first began 63 years ago when the spouse of someone in the industry was struggling with a severe illness.

The couple had spent all their resources and were struggling. Friends and colleagues came together to support the couple by raising money, and before long, the group expanded its support to others in need and established itself as AACF.


The Industry’s Best-Kept Secret 

Since then, not much about AACF’s goals has changed: the organization is here to help anyone in the industry dealing with circumstances beyond their control.

What has changed is its capability to help even more, which is why outreach has been one of its biggest priorities.

AACF’s biggest fundraiser is its golf tournament, held every year the day before SEMA and AAPEX kick-off, and it recently celebrated its 30th anniversary. In its first year, it raised around $5,000. Three decades later, the event sells out each year, hosting over 200 golfers and raising 10 times the amount it did its first year.

The golf fundraiser is only a glimpse of AACF’s growth. In the past 10 years, the organization has donated over $5 million in support to those in the industry and their families and is eager to help more. The problem is that many people are unaware that help is there for them and are unable to find it on their own.

“It was kind of a cruel joke that we were the best-kept secret in the industry. We didn't plan on it being that way,” Ayres says.

Many people who require assistance don’t want to have their struggles made public, which is why AACF has committed to maintaining anonymity unless given explicit permission to share someone’s story. The organization has other ways of promoting the work it does. 

Though AACF has grown tremendously since its inception, it still doesn’t have the resources of bigger groups such as the United Way or Red Cross. It relies on mostly volunteers for outreach, with Ayres himself speaking at the recent Ratchet+Wrench Management Conference to make more in the industry aware of the available help.

There are things shops can do to help promote AACF’s work and help any of its staff who may need help. The organization has a program that supplies shops with promotional materials such as posters and boilerplate messages to be displayed throughout work areas.

Businesses looking to support AACF financially can make donations or can even host fundraising efforts within the company such as matching donation funds made by employees.

When it feels as though everything is lost, it can be difficult to recover from. AACF’s work in lifting those who have been hit by tragedy not only helps them and their families but also makes the industry as a whole stronger when people know that no matter what happens to them, they aren’t alone.

“If I could see anything under my term here, (it) would be that we can increase the number of people we're helping– because that's what we want, that's what we're here for,” Ayres says. “I spent my whole career in sales and marketing. Instead of taking people's money, now I get to give it away. It's a great way to wake up every morning and know that's what you're doing for your job.” 

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