When Jason Hughes opened his automotive business Capital City Collision in November 2015, he noticed a lack of development in the surrounding neighborhood. The shop sits on Scenic Highway near Choctaw Drive in north Baton Rouge’s 70805 ZIP code, an area with vacant and rundown buildings, food deserts and underdeveloped housing options.
One month after opening the shop, Hughes hosted the business’ first Holiday Toy Giveaway and provided 500 toys for local families in-need. After its success and hearing advice from friends, he started the nonprofit Project 70805 in 2016.
“I grew up in the ZIP code, so I understood the need for help and change,” Hughes says.
Project 70805 aims to promote social and economic growth in north Baton Rouge by helping to create affordable housing in the area and offering education opportunities, programming and other resources.
The Holiday Toy Giveaway continues each December, but Project 70805 now also provides automotive training to teenagers—a natural extension of Hughes’ business—and collaborates with other local businesses to grant scholarships to high school students.
Before COVID-19, Hughes trained 16 high school students from the Community School for Apprenticeship Learning on basic automotive skills during their elective hour. Students learn hands-on automotive repairing skills, such as how to change the oil, replacing tires and how to identify car parts. Hughes also taught the students accounting, marketing and other automotive business knowledge.
“I grew up in the ZIP code, so I understood the need for help and change.”[—Jason Hughes, founder of the nonprofit Project 70805]
In July 2020, the nonprofit rewarded 20 Baton Rouge high school seniors with $1,000 scholarships. It’s just one of the ways Hughes aims to help locals have access to better education and opportunities. He also plans to provide programming on how to pay for, sustain and maintain houses in north Baton Rouge, helping residents learn how to become a homeowner, the stages of homeownership and what resources are available for potential homeowners.
“We can build a bunch of houses, but if we don’t educate people on how to keep the house, the same cycle will continue,” Hughes says.
The pandemic has given Hughes time to brainstorm new ways to improve Project 70805. This year, he is revamping the nonprofit’s board. In January 2021, the organization will begin its search for a new executive director.
“I am taking a step back, readjusting the roles and appointing new people to help this organization grow,” Hughes says. With a full plate at Capital City Collision and a commitment to being involved in the community, Hughes wants to appoint a leader who can dedicate his or her time and energy to the nonprofit.
This December, Capital City Collision will again take the lead with the Holiday Toy Giveaway so the nonprofit can focus more on its main goals. Though Project 70805 may look different next year, the mission remains the same for Hughes.
“We want to be a catalyst for the community,” he says, “to help it advance, grow and understand the value of education.” project70805.org
This article was originally published in the September issue of 225 Magazine.