A Saskatoon collision repair centre gives back to kids in its community.
by Pat Rediger
A daughter who teaches at a Saskatoon community school, the ability to spend more time with grandkids, and growing business success are all factors that led a Saskatoon collision repair centre to give back to kids in its community.
Jennifer and Bob Heroux, who started Lazer Auto Body in 1987, have become significant philanthropists in the community by contributing to various charities that support children and youth. The company donated $102,500 to Nutrien Wonderhub, sponsored the Spirit of Sport Award at the Gordie Howe Sports Complex, and frequently donates their time and skills to the Hands On Ministry, which restores vehicles with inner-city youth.
“You get to a point in your life and you realize how important it is to give back,” said Jennifer. “It’s just such a feeling to help out with no strings attached.”
The couple started their business in a small shop in the city’s north end while they were still in their twenties. They did not have a lot of experience running a business—Bob knew how to paint cars from his previous job at Hub Paint and Body, and Jennifer had taken an accounting course. Nevertheless, they understood the risks and decided to embark upon the new venture. Along the way, they also juggled the demands of raising three children.
It’s just such a feeling to help out with no strings attached.”
The Herouxs began with one employee and, through hard work and determination, the business began to slowly expand. Eventually, they moved twice before settling at their current location on Avenue P South, which was previously owned by Jennifer’s dad.
After Jennifer’s dad decided to relocate his business, the Saskatoon Shopper newspaper, the couple decided that they would seize the opportunity the open vacancy presented. Jennifer remembered thinking to herself that when they moved into the larger shop they would never need this much space, and leased a part of it out.
Fast forward 20 years later and they not only occupy the entire shop, but they also bought the building behind them to meet their business needs. They employ more than a dozen staff and offer a variety of services for collision repair needs. As the company grew, they began to realize the importance of giving back.
The couple felt particularly inclined to help children, since one of their daughters is a teacher who works at a community school in the city. They began to help by doing small things like donating pizzas for the school’s year-end party. Their support of inner-city youth eventually took them towards the Hands On Outreach and Development Centre, a charitable organization that helps kids with their physical and emotional needs.
It’s a chance to make a difference.”
Bob volunteers in the auto body program where he works restoring old vehicles with youth who want to become a part of the auto body industry. He shows the kids how to weld and repair a car, and when the vehicle is completed, it is sold by auction to support the centre. A couple of the Lazer staff members usually tag along to help with the project and mentor the kids.
“It’s super rewarding for Bob because he loves those kids and they just love him,” said Jennifer. “That’s actually how we started to give back.”
The rewards of helping others resonated with the Herouxs and they began to think about making a donation that would have a greater impact on the community. While speaking to one of her friends, Jennifer was introduced to the Nutrien Wonderhub, an organization that promotes learning and development for children through hands-on exhibits, programming, and outreach at their museum in the city. Not only did Jennifer and Bob make a sizable donation to the organization, the staff also painted a hot pink wall at the museum’s entrance.
“So, we were able to give back not only financially but in person as well,” explained Jennifer. “They were able to go down there and be part of it, so it was also an educational development for us and our staff.”
Shortly after the Wonderhub donation, the Herouxs noted that another nearby charity required assistance. They discovered that the Gordie Howe Sports Complex, which is only two blocks away, was looking for sponsors to help provide sporting opportunities for kids in baseball, softball, track and field, football, speed skating, and many other sports.
Tying together kids, sports, and a facility in their own neighborhood was a natural fit for the Herouxs and they decided to become sponsors of the Spirit of Sport Awards, which are designed to inspire kids to join and continue sports.
During the first year, the awards will honour two baseball and two softball players of any gender, and in the following years, the program will be expanded to include football. These awards are not created for the most athletic child, but instead focus on a child who shows sportsmanship, passion, kindness, and gives back to the community.
“Playing sports helps with physical fitness, brings people together, builds friendships, and teaches us so many important life lessons,” said Jennifer.
This year was meant to be the inaugural awards but, because of COVID-19, has been delayed. Currently, they are trying to determine how a child could be nominated online, and whether coaches or parents would be the ones to nominate them. The award includes three different categories and each category is awarded a trophy and cash prize.
Despite their donations to date, Jennifer said they are not finished yet. They still want to be able to contribute more to their community to create a better future. With the emphasis on improving race relations these days, she said they are looking at what they can do to support initiatives in this area.
They also hope to engage their staff in these endeavors in the future. As people come and go about their jobs, she said, it is important to help build relationships and create teamwork. Although the company receives acknowledgement for being involved in charity work, Jennifer said their desire to help is rooted in something much deeper. “It feels good to contribute to something bigger than ourselves,” she said. “For me, it is the chance to give to something that means more than just everyday life. It’s a chance to make a difference.”