Engine repair business helps students learn
With a practiced hand, 17-year-old Cody Schutte worked on the engine of the lawnmower on the workbench in front of him. His hands deftly grabbed wrenches from a nearby toolbox to make adjustments.
For about the past eight months, Cody has been part of a special program offered through the Washington Behavioral Learning Center (BLC) at Washington High School. On two afternoons a week, Cody leaves school to work on engines at J&D Small Engine Repair under the tutorage of owner Jim Cluney. Having grown up helping work on engines, Cody was eager for the opportunity to learn more about them, and Bill Huisenga, director of the Washington Behavioral Learning Center, was happy to arrange for him to be part of the program that has been a mainstay with the BLC since its beginnings.
“I’ve got a great teacher,” Cody answered when asked why he enjoyed working on engines so much.
Saying he likes to work with his hands, Cody works at J&D Small Engine Repair twice a week now. Huisenga said Cody earns the right to come to the shop by doing well in class, and the program is one of the main motivators for Cody to focus on his education.
The BLC deals with students with severe behavioral and social emotional disorders. The program gives these students the opportunity to stay in the school district. Huisenga said that part of the job of the BLC is to help the students build positive relationships in the community.
Cluney said that Cody had begun working at the shop by taking engines apart to see the inner workings. After about a week, Cluney said it was time to show him how to put the engines back together.
As part of the work, Cluney gave Cody two old engines, telling him he could have the engines if he could get them working. He has since gotten one of the engines working and is hard at work on the other. Cluney said that when they work on an engine and get it running, it is a joy to see Cody light up with smiles. Cody is at the point he can work on engines by himself.
Cody will continue to work at the shop through the end of the school year.
“I see a great future for him,” Cluney said.
Huisenga agrees, saying he has seen Cody’s confidence growing and his growth as a person since he has been working on engines.
Cluney has taken on young coworkers for the past three years to help the BLC. Huisenga said the program couldn’t ask for a better volunteer to help train young people to do work on small engines. He also said Cluney and his wife help feed the students at the BLC.
“He is helping these kids learn a basic skill which is extremely important nowadays,” Huisenga said. “More importantly his mentorship and leadership and the way he handles himself — his morals and values — is really instilled in these kids.”
J&D Small Engine Repair had begun when Cluney’s son Dan had lost his job. Cluney had said Dan had to learn new skills, and he taught him to repair small motors. The repair work quickly went from a hobby to a full-time business, which is booming, especially as spring rolls around.
The program to allow young people hands-on experience working on motors had begun almost at the same time the WBLC had started. The program began when a student had shown aptitude working on motors, which inspired Huisenga to look for an additional learning opportunity for the student in the community. It was then he approached Cluney about helping mentor students. Cluney has helped teach many of the students and says he has no intention of stopping.
“As long as I can keep doing it, I am going to keep doing it,” he said.