Cleaning cars only part of man's vision to clean up community
Posted February 6, 2009 3:55 p.m. EST
Updated March 9, 2009 5:12 p.m. EDT
Raleigh, N.C. — A southeast Raleigh man's love for cleaning cars has started him on a crusade to clean up his part of the city.
Mike Phillips had owned and operated Men at Work Care Center for decades, but recent brushes with economic troubles prompted him to take a harder look at his community.
"For so long, all I see in the papers is gangs and shootings and drugs in southeast Raleigh," Phillips said. "Nothing positive comes out of southeast Raleigh."
In that part of town, Men at Work survived drought and buyouts, but the business nearly died after it was to forced move from its longtime home on Cabarrus Street to make way for some upscale condos, Phillips said.
"We took a tank of water and became mobile. I set up up on the street corner," he said. "It was a trying year for us, but we made it through."
Out of that trial, Phillips said, he emerged with gratitude and a fresh commitment to his community.
"I said to myself while I was on the street, if I ever got in the position to help somebody, I was going to stick my neck out to do that," he said.
Phillips has made good on that promise. Nearly all of his employees out washing cars are ex-cons who are trying to clean up their lives.
"You get out of jail, you come see me. You know it's better than going back to doing the same thing you're doing," Phillips said. "If you don't have the opportunity once you've been released, what happens? You go back to what you know."
And that's just the first step in Phillips' vision: By summer, he sees an empty, 15,000-square-foot warehouse in a crime-plagued area becoming Cheytoria's Community Center – named after his oldest daughter.
"I see bingo. I see boxing. I see wrestling. I see karate," Phillips said. "When I look out here, I see summer basketball programs. I see kids playing baseball on the diamond in the corner."
Recreation and sports are the means, but not the ultimate goal, he explained: "By helping these kids get off the streets, it gives them somewhere to go."
Phillips said he poured $100,000 of his own money into renovating the warehouse into a community center – but he believes the payoff for his community will be great.
"If I can help a young man stay out of prison, then that is reward enough for me," Phillips said.