Returning to Pay It Forward to the Next Generation of Professionals

Amid the productive clanging and banging heard throughout the garage at the Arkansas Career Training Institute (ACTI), there are two voices that can still be heard over the noise – providing instruction and direction to a group of students. 

These students are learning from Walter Holley and David Tunnicliff, two auto collision repair gurus who not only know the industry but they also know how to excel in the industry with a disability.

Both Holley and Tunnicliff graduated from ACTI (then called Hot Springs Rehabilitation Center) and pursued careers in the auto collision industry.  

“It’s a homecoming.  This system has changed a bit and faces have changed, but the needs remain the same,” Holley said.

Holley, who became a member of the ACTI faculty in late 2017, went to Garland, Texas, after he graduated from ACTI in 1985.  He moved back to Arkansas in the early nineties and opened a repair shop with his wife.

“I came to here to teach these young men and women and start them at an elementary stage – reading instructions and listening to [their] instructors,” Holley said.

Holley’s journey through ACTI started shortly after he turned twenty years old.  A work accident caused him to lose part of his leg.  He learned about the Hot Springs facility through a vocational rehabilitation counselor.   

“When I got here, there were people who didn’t have any legs or maybe one arm.  I realized really quickly that I didn’t have any problems,” Holley said.

Holley said he left with more than just the skills he needed for his career.

“I learned how to walk really well.  When I got to come to the training area, the people were genuine, and the instructors were solid,” he said. 

On the other side of the garage, Tunnicliff has a similar story of perseverance.  He signed up for the Army but was denied due to his being deaf in his right ear.

“That really hurt my feelings,” he recounted.

After working “a couple of dead-end jobs,” he heard about the vocational rehabilitation facility in Hot Springs.  He had worked in some repair shops, so it was fitting for him to study the field.

“I always wanted to get to the point where I made real money.  I completed the program and worked in the field for almost twelve years,” Tunnicliff said.

And after twelve years in the field, Tunnicliff said he ran across a posting for an auto collision repair instructor at ACTI.  He felt a nudge to go back to the place that gave him so much.

“The students at the time, they referred to us as rehabbers.  That’s fine.  I’ll take that. I’m more of a recycled rehabber. I was out there, done it, and came back. I’m proud of what we do here,” Tunnicliff said.

Holley and Tunnicliff said the opportunity they have now not only shows that they believe in the mission of ACTI, but they also want to prove to students that a disability should not stop them.

“You have obstacles daily to let you know that you’re really wasting your time, but you stay focused and keep pushing and the longer you’re here, the more you learn, it will one day come to fruition that you can actually do this type of work on a professional level,” Holley said.

Students like Hayden Davis are listening and looking.

“We have different disabilities, but it doesn’t change the way we do our work. Everyone can learn. Sometimes there’s a bump in the road, but we learn to get around that,” Davis said.

(Photo: David Tunnicliff (far left) and Walter Holley (far right) return to ACTI to teach the next generation in auto collision repair)
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