Automotive donation

A group gathers at Haircut 101 on March 5 to receive a check for the Watauga High School automotive department. Left to right: Dustin Ford (instructor), Macon Hollars, Adonis Assaad, Nickolas Trivett, Samual Brandon, Erik Mortenson (instructor) and John Mena.

BOONE — A few community members have found ways to aid the Watauga High School automotive department in its venture to develop an electric vehicle.

Students set to work in the fall to create a plan to build their own electric car from scratch. The department hit a setback with that plan in January when a much-needed grant fell through, according to automotive department instructor Erik Mortenson. John Mena, a Boone resident and owner of Haircut 101, wanted to help.

Mena said he saw the department’s announcement about the grant complication and immediately set up a fundraising effort on Facebook. He said he felt the need to help because he advocates for students to take career/technical courses. With the help of Facebook friends, his salon clients and even those who aren’t local, Mena raised $2,570 for the automotive department.

“I think people really realized the need for these kind of technical skills,” Mena said.

The donation came as a shock to Mortenson, as he said he had no idea that Mena had taken it upon himself to raise the money. Mortenson said he and the students were grateful for the donation, and that it was a huge help in pushing the project along. Several of the students gathered at Haircut 101 on March 5 to officially receive their check from Mena.

“I think it’s very important that we support our schools,” Mena said. “We have a wonderful community here and I think it’s important that individuals and business owners give back.”

The donations didn’t stop there. To continue to raise money, Mortenson said the school plans to raffle off two vehicles that were donated to the program. The first vehicle is a 2005 Subaru Outback given by Gary and Fuschia Moss. Raffle tickets can be purchased for $20 at Watauga High School. The last day to purchase a ticket for the raffle is April 9; the drawing is taking place the following day.

The second vehicle to be raffled off is a 2002 GMC Yukon donated by Bria Gasparato. Tickets for the GMC will be available when Watauga County Schools returns from spring break, and the drawing will take place May 22.

WHS Assistant Principal and Career and Technical Education Director Tierra Stark said the electric vehicle project is the first career and technical education project that has been fully funded by donations and fundraising efforts.

“I’m excited that the community is pitching in and the amount of people who have called and are excited about it is amazing,” Stark said.

Mortenson also credited Stark for her guidance and support for much of the automotive department’s success.

“She deserves a lot of credit for what we are trying to accomplish down here,” Mortenson said. “There would be no electric car project without her approval and support, and the program would be nowhere near as successful without her.”

When Mortenson told the students about the grant falling through, he said he expected a dip in their interest in the project. Instead the students began generating ideas to generate funding. In addition to the two vehicles for a raffle, Mortenson said students were also going to raffle off two go-karts and a mini-bike. The students have also voiced interest in potentially having a car wash when the weather is warm, he said.

“It’s been a student-oriented project and I’m glad that they’re still excited about it,” Stark said.

The raffle for the two go-karts and the mini-bike will take place before the school breaks for the summer, Mortenson said.

To save money, the automotive department has slightly changed the scope of the electric vehicle project. The original plan was to model the vehicle after a Volkswagen Beetle and build the body around the vehicle’s frame.

A donation of a mid-1990s Nissan pickup truck was then made to the department from a group who had tried to build an electric vehicle but had never finished the project. Mortenson said the students will have to change several of the truck’s technological features such as the vehicle’s battery. The project will essentially be the same, just with an existing truck instead of a custom vehicle.

Mortenson said it was difficult to estimate how much more in funding the project would need to be completed, as it depended on the parts needed and the pricing. He guessed that the department was still likely about $4,000 to $5,000 from its goal.

“I’m still hopeful to wrap up to where the car actually hits the road by the end of this school year,” Mortenson said.

The school also still has plans to build a solar charging station for the vehicle, and will likely enlist the help of solar experts from Appalachian State University.

In addition to financial donations, Mortenson said the department would welcome those who are willing to donate time, car parts or expertise in the field. The automotive department advisory committee plans to meet at 6 p.m. on April 3, and Mortenson said community members interested in getting involved with the department were welcome to attend. For more information, contact Mortenson at mortensene@wataugaschools.org.

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