Changing Fortunes

One Man’s Persistence Affected An Entire Program

JOE GAMBACCINI took a roundabout path to arrive in the classic car restoration business. A former regional planner who decided to turn his old car hobby into a career, in January 2015, the 48-year-old enrolled in the automotive restoration program at Central Carolina Community College (CCCC; in Sanford, North Carolina, to get his education.

Leaving his full-time government job to go to school full time, Joe had been researching ways to help pay for school. That’s when he discovered the Hagerty Education Program at America’s Car Museum (HEP). “I was looking online for grant programs and scholarships for myself,” he says. “Then I saw the Hagerty Education Program.” The program, however, is structured for institutional awards rather than funding for individuals, so Joe did the next best thing.

He reached out to Meghan Brown, Director of Grants and Strategic Initiatives at CCCC. “Funding grants for some of our technical programs has always been difficult for us,” she says, “because there’s a heavy focus on funding new programs. It’s a little more difficult to find money to support programs that are already established,” like CCCC’s auto restoration program, which began in 2001.

“I’d been looking for grants for our automotive programs, without much luck,” Brown says. “So it was really amazing when I followed the link that Joe sent me. It just fits our program so specifically, which is really phenomenal.”

By July, HEP had reviewed CCCC’s application and awarded the school $12,000 in scholarship money for the 2015–16 school year, including three $3,000 and three $1,000 scholarships. The news was published in the Dunn Daily Record newspaper that month and had an instant impact. “We had several students call us who weren’t previously enrolled at CCCC, just to join the program,” Brown says. “We didn’t anticipate the volume of calls we were going to get.”

Gambaccini had been in the program for half a year by that point, and he was selected to receive one of the scholarships. Then his fortunes changed. Following a field trip to a local restoration shop, he was offered a job and left school. “I couldn’t turn it down,” he says. “But around that time I also got the scholarship notice, which was hard to give back.”

Gambaccini still has two semesters remaining to complete his degree, but he has moved on to another shop and is doing what he set out to do when he left his old job: to earn his keep by restoring classic cars. While pursuit of his degree is on hold, he’s thrilled that his efforts to pay for school have benefitted so many others, and he hopes the program grows.

As for himself, he has no regrets. “I’m doing what I should have been doing for the last 30 years.”

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