See more of the story

Rafael Gonzalez has the arrests and losses to show for abuse of alcohol and methamphetamine that got so bad he couldn't hold down a job.

But that was before he got sober and got baptized at the Addiction Recovery Care (ARC) in Louisa, Ky., and before he started learning to be an auto mechanic as part of his treatment.

Now he can change the oil in vehicles. He can fix brakes. And he can see a future.

That's the point of Second Chance Auto, where people recovering from addiction also train to be mechanics.

"It keeps you motivated," said Gonzalez, a slight, soft-spoken 27-year-old.

The shop grew from an idea that combining job training with substance-abuse treatment would benefit people working to overcome addiction by preparing them for a life after getting clean.

The concept is to help people go from crisis to career, showing them the potential to again be productive members of society, said Tim Robinson, president of ARC.

"That provides hope. That motivates people to engage and complete their treatment," said Robinson, a former prosecutor who founded the treatment business after dealing with his own addiction to alcohol.

Before ARC started incorporating vocational training in its treatment process, just 40% of its clients stayed past the initial 30-day phase. That rate jumped to 75% when ARC started its first job-training program, Robinson said.

The organization had to double the number of beds available for the second phase of its yearlong treatment program to accommodate people staying on for job training. That's significant because more time in treatment means better potential for long-term sobriety.

Of the people who have received job training while taking part in treatment at ARC since October 2016, more than 80% remain employed and in active recovery, Robinson said.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last year that it would include ARC in a study of how programs help people move from poverty and addiction into the workforce.

ARC provides clinical drug-addiction treatment coupled with Christian principles. It has seven residential treatment facilities and several outpatient clinics with about 1,000 people in treatment. Most of its facilities are in the Appalachian counties of Kentucky, but it has an outpatient clinic in Lexington.

The organization has set up a partnership with Big Sandy Community and Technical College to train medical receptionists, and also has a building-trades internship. The shop can handle anything from fixing flat tires to rebuilding engines. Business has grown so quickly that all the bays are full at times.

"We have customers now who basically walk in, throw us the keys and say 'Figure out what's wrong with it,' " said James Keeton, who manages Second Chance Auto. Keeton, 44, has a decade of sobriety under his belt.

Keeton believes God has a plan for his life, a way to use everything he went through, and the shop is part of that. "I believe that reason is today I can help other people," he said.

The shop has some employees who are not in recovery from drug or alcohol abuse, but most are. Experienced mechanics check the work of people in training.

There are two men in training right now, but about a dozen others have gone on from the garage to work elsewhere, Keeton said.

Lonnie Thomason, who is in treatment at ARC for alcohol addiction, is taking part in the mechanic training program. Thomason, 49, was a certified mechanic at dealerships in Berea and Richmond before letting his certification lapse as booze dragged him down. He said it helps him to work around others who understand the struggles of addiction.

"Staying connected is necessary for me — staying connected with people in recovery," Thomason said. "I'll probably retire from here if they'll put up with me."

Gonzalez also wants to stay on at Second Chance Auto and become a certified mechanic. "I was offered an opportunity when most wouldn't offer it," he said. "I know I have the tools."