▶ Watch Video: Chicago nonprofit helps youth find purpose through classic car restoration

Chicago — After he was shot and wounded last year, 19-year-old Jeff Battles is now finding a new direction through his love of old cars.

“Wrong place, wrong time, with the wrong people,” Battles told CBS News of the shooting. “It hit me in my right shoulder, and came out my neck right here.”

He described the incident as a wake-up call.

“I almost lost my life, man,” Battles said. “I gotta change. I gotta do better.”

Doing better brought the teen to the Chicago-based nonprofit Automotive Mentoring Group and its founder, Alex Levesque.

“The only way you change the behavior of a person is if you change the way they think,” Levesque said.

Through the program, young people learn to fix up old cars, and in turn, find well-paying jobs. The program focuses on helping current and former gang members, helping them achieve goals such as earning high school diplomas, enrolling in college and find jobs and apprenticeships in the auto industry.  

“Nobody else wants to deal with those guys,” Levesque said of some of the people who have come through the program. “So I want to deal with those guys. Because those are the guys that I see are the real problem.”

About 1,500 people have passed through the Automotive Mentoring Group since 2007. Levesque says about 85% of them have turned their lives around.

“I don’t necessarily think that this is the answer to all of it,” Levesque said. “I just know it’s a damn good answer. And it’s what I know how to do.”
It’s also a lesson Battles is learning.
“I refuse to be a stereotype,” Battles said. “I’m starting from the foundation, and I’m gonna work my way up.”