A local dealership was honored with a national award for its program that trains non-violent felons to be automotive technicians.
Corporate officials with Toyota presented Priority Toyota with the “Best In Town” award Wednesday afternoon. The dealership was chosen out of 1,265 in the country.
Last year, the program opened up for 14 inmates at the Norfolk City Jail for them to train then be hired on at Priority.
This year, 16 inmates are learning through the program, which is in conjunction with Tidewater Community College.
It took a couple of years to get started after Priority Autogroup president and CEO Dennis Ellmer came up with the idea.
Ellmer was on a cultural tour in Fiji, when he saw locals benefiting from a similar program.
Ellmer says he’s grateful for the award last year after president and and thankful to the people at the dealership, the Norfolk Sheriff’s Office, TCC, and the state for making it happen.
He says many who graduated from last year’s program are assets to the company and are making double to amount of money that they had guaranteed they would make.
“When you speak to them, it makes you feel great. You’re not just affecting their lives. You’re affecting their wives, their children who are proud of them. They’re mentors to the new class. You’re not just helping one person, you’re helping a community,” Ellmer said.
He also thanked Governor Ralph Northam, who he says helped change state law allow non-violent felons to become state inspectors.
The Norfolk Sheriff’s Office says a number of inmates approached them about joining the second class this year and that they are working to expand a similar program to other agencies.
Sheriff Joe Baron believes that these programs will help keep inmates from returning to jail.