‘More than just a business’: TMR auto shop brings workforce development opportunity to Natchez youths

Published 12:19 pm Saturday, May 18, 2024

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NATCHEZ — “That’s My Ride Auto,” which celebrated a grand opening last week at 275 John R. Junkin Drive, is the Rev. Bishop Stanley Searcy’s “retirement gift from God,” he said.

The former lead pastor and founder of New Hope the Vision Center in Natchez said it has been a long-standing dream of his to fix up and sell used cars.

As he approached retirement, that dream became a reality.

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However, Searcy said God asked him what he would do with the business if he gave it to him.

Through a role that Searcy had in a radio show, God laid it on his heart to use the business as a vocational-technical school to minister to area youth, he said.

“It’s more than just a business,” Mayor Dan Gibson pointed out during the grand opening and ribbon-cutting celebration, adding the workforce development collaboration there would help fill some of the jobs available in the city.

New businesses alone account for close to 1,000 jobs, he said.

“That doesn’t even count all of the growing businesses such as Jordan Carriers, which recently opened a new headquarters on U.S. 61 South, or Loss Prevention, which is approaching Phase II of growth — meaning more new jobs. These jobs are food on the table and independence for our people and opportunities for young people. Thank you (Searcy) for contributing to that.”

A little more than a year ago, Searcy was a voice in a discussion about youth gun violence on 97.7 The Beat.

“All the officials were there asking what we could do to curtail crime,” he said. “They said take the guns away, set a curfew, and all of that. But it wasn’t a good fix. It was just going to be a Band-Aid (on the problem). I told my wife we had to get some boots on the ground. Someone has to touch three generations, grandparents, parents and children who aren’t being taught the right thing.”

The auto shop teaches youth an array of different skill sets in the industry, including financing and office work; body, paint and detailing work; installing after-market rims and lifts, and more. “We’re going to build a workforce for our community and we’re going to do it here,” Searcy said. “More important than the business aspect is that this is going to change some of the youth in our city.”

Searcy thanked Angela James, former CASA Director for Adams County Juvenile Detention Center and now Career Coach for Natchez High School, and officials of the Natchez Adams School District for their support of the endeavor.

He already recruited half a dozen teens to teach the tricks of the trade, however, the school district partnership allows him to take it even further and rotate out 10 or so students every semester.

“It has been a journey,” he said. “I want to thank the community, the realtors who sold me the property and the school district for giving me exactly what we needed.”

In addition to the buying, selling, detailing, servicing and automobile aspects of the business, TMR Auto also provides U-Haul rentals and a financing department to help people find the car they can afford, he said.

The students he works with leave with work certificates that will help place them in jobs in the community, he said.

Searcy’s son has taken the pulpit of New Hope the Vision Center, but he returns there to preach once a month and is still active in foreign ministry, he said.

“My ministry doesn’t stop for as long as I live,” he said. “I want to die empty, pouring back the things I’ve learned into the next generation.”