Automakers obsess over millennials. New entry-level offerings focus on the perceived needs of those young adults, and ad campaigns seek ways to lure those buyers specifically. Auto journalists, too, have been writing for years about Gen Y and the future of the auto industry. But as valuable as millennials and their wallets are, winning the hearts and minds of the generation to follow is no less important, and not just for the auto industry’s bottom line. Whitney had it right: Teach them well, and let them lead the way.
With that in mind, Orlando Dumalag of Tulsa, Oklahoma, founded Smiles for Miles, a charity with an idea brilliant in its simplicity: provide underprivileged children with private car shows to get them hooked then give them car magazines to get them to read.
“I didn’t read books growing up, but I was always reading car magazines or staring at car pictures,” he says. “I also have two kids. One is 6 years old, and the other 3. My wife and I read to them every night, and they enjoy it.”
It goes beyond just having a good time, though. We’ll spare you the educational theory soapbox speeches and won’t get into the early childhood education weeds, but simply put, kids who read are going to have advantages over kids who don’t, and children with challenging lives are less likely to be exposed to reading.
“I know that their day-to-day lives are complicated,” Dumalag says. “I want them to see us and remember we’re not much different from them. My hope is to plant a positive seed so that we somehow help them a bit.”
If the results of Smiles for Miles’ first event are any indication, that seed has taken root. “You can see from the photos and videos that these kids enjoyed the magazines,” Dumalag says. “I’m sure because it has nothing to do with homework.” He says that last part in jest, but to put a toe on that soapbox, trickery is a useful teaching tool. He’s not wrong. And it’s hard to see the smiles on those little faces behind those oversized steering wheels without thinking back on the childhood days when you first fell in love.
Dumalag organized the event in conjunction with the True Blue Neighbors youth mentoring program and three local car clubs. Thirty volunteers brought 27 cars, ranging from Subarus and Minis to BMWs and Porsches to even a drag racer, which the kids all got to sign. Each of the 140 children in attendance, all of them students at Kendall-Whittier Elementary School, also took home copies of car magazines and received a subscription to Motor Trend. “I think magazines can be a gateway to other reading materials,” Dumalag says. “My hope is that these kids get in the habit of reading so they learn and better themselves.”
With the first Smiles for Miles car show a success, Dumalag plans to connect with more volunteers and organizations to host additional shows and reach more kids. “Then,” he says, “convince other car nuts all over the world to let kids sit in their cars.”
For more information about Smiles for Miles, visit them at smilesformiles.us.
Photos courtesy of volunteer photographers
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