Dino DiGiulio of Sonoma, CA started repairing cars at 14 and knew right away that he liked working on autos. After high school, he took a job in an auto body shop detailing cars. In 1990, at the age of 21, he took every penny he had and opened his own 1,800-square-foot shop, Body Best Collision Center, on Sonoma’s 8th Street East. He had one employee.
Today the shop has grown to 12,500 square feet and DiGiulio employees 14 people.
A few years ago, DiGiulio started thinking about giving back to the community. “I have such loyal customers,” he said.
Attending a management conference, he became friends with Jody Gatchell, owner of A&J Collision, an auto body shop in Conway, AR. Gatchell had started a program whereby he fixed up and donated a used car to someone who needed it as a way to market his business.
DiGiulio decided to do the same in Sonoma, naming the program “Wheels to Prosper.” Last year he fixed up one of his loaner cars, a 1999 Buick Century Ltd, with 68,000 miles. He wanted to give the car to a “worthy” person, which he decided meant someone who spent considerable time to help others.
“That has the most impact on the community,” DiGiulio said. “People who go over and above the call of duty when it comes to helping others. Someone like that deserves to win a car if they need it.”
After soliciting names from local residents and going through them with a committee of community leaders, a winner was chosen: Lisa White, a mother of three, soccer coach, and Sunday School teacher at St. Andrew Presbyterian Church. A pharmacy technician at Sonoma Developmental Center, White had been unable to afford paying to fix her own car after it broke down, something that made her life difficult.
Later that year, DiGiulio gave away a second car.
“The Wheels to Prosper” giveaways were so popular that he wanted to give more cars away and he wanted to get other auto shops involved.
In late July, DiGiulio gave away three more used cars and lined up 15 shops across the country to give away cars that same day.
“It’s a way to pay it forward,” he said. “It’s amazing to see people’s emotions when they win the car, people who have little, but who sacrifice their time to help others. I’m happy to help them.”