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APSU, Maaco, & Operation Turnaround helps teens turn their lives around with Project 59

Austin Peay State University LogoRestoring a rusted 1959 Pontiac Catalina may be a daunting task but perhaps not as challenging as helping at-risk teens better their lives.

However, empowering these teens to perform a full restoration of the ’59 Catalina is the mission of Project 59, an initiative led by Mitch Rollins, an adjunct faculty member in the APSU Department of Psychology.

Rollins also is the owner of Maaco, a collision repair center in Clarksville, which partners with the Clarksville Police Department in a program called Operation Turnaround. Project 59 is a component of the program, with 24 at-risk teens participating.

Mitch Rollins demonstrating how it's done
Mitch Rollins demonstrating how it's done

Often, Rollins said he analogizes the old, clunker vehicle to drugs and crime.

“The car looks like a menace to society, just like drugs and crime are,” he said. “We try to get the kids to visualize that this car is similar to the drugs and crime in their lives.”

The lime green car from Memphis was donated to the repair center by someone who heard about Operation Turnaround. As the teens work to restore the vehicle into an attraction, Rollins and his employees at Maaco serve as their mentors, not counselors.

“We try to teach these youth responsibility and respect, not just for others but for themselves as well,” Rollins said. “We work to instill in them some self-esteem, a need they never really have had in their lives.”

Once the Catalina is restored, Rollins and the teens plan to enter it in the Barrett Jackson Classic Car Auction in Las Vegas. They hope to net $40,000 for the car and invest the earnings into Operation Turnaround.

A 59 Pontiac Catalina

Rollins said participating in the program helps Maaco to generate a positive image, but the teens are the ones truly helped by Operation Turnaround.

“This actually is helping the kids’ image,” he said. “They are really the beneficiaries of this.”

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