Aftermarket Community Extends a Helping Hand

By Ellen McKoy

 SEMA CaresSEMA Cares donates to three charities, including Austin Hatcher Foundation, Childhelp and Victory Junction.

By definition, a trade association is an organization established to operate within a specific industry and engage in various activities such as educational programming, legislative advocacy, trade shows and conferences, networking and other undertakings, all for the benefit of its members. Sound familiar? It should, because all of those things are at the heart of SEMA’s mission.

But there is one aspect common to some trade groups—and especially to SEMA—that isn’t always front and center in the minds of its members: a commitment to charitable outreach responsive to the needs of a wider community. To that end, the SEMA Board of Directors established SEMA Cares in 2007.

SEMA Cares works with select charities that best reflect the values and interests of the automotive specialty-equipment industry and that provide opportunities through fundraising and other activities to help to improve hard life circumstances.

The SEMA Memorial Scholarship Fund also relies on industry support to further its goals of engaging students in the aftermarket industry. In addition, there is the nonprofit Automotive Aftermarket Charitable Foundation (AACF), which provides assistance to individuals in the automotive aftermarket in times of need.

To build awareness of and garner industry support for these nonprofit entities, here’s an inside look at the good works they perform.

Help for Youth in Need

SEMA CaresPinewood races help raise donations and awareness of SEMA Cares charities. 

By providing a forum through which SEMA members can collectively make a positive impact beyond the automotive community, SEMA Cares helps improve the lives of children in need through the work of three organizations: the Austin Hatcher Foundation for pediatric cancer; Childhelp’s prevention and treatment of child abuse and neglect; and the Victory Junction camp for children with serious medical conditions and illnesses.

“I just love what SEMA Cares has been doing,” said Hellwig Products’ Melanie White, chair of the SEMA Cares committee. “The mission has always been to help youth in need, and it’s been doing that in several different ways, all of them tied in with our industry.”

Over the years, SEMA Cares has initiated various fundraising efforts, including the popular Pinewood Drag races held during industry events such as the TORA Awards Reception at the SEMA Show and the SEMA Installation & Gala. In December, SEMA Cares hosted the first ever Cars & Coffee fundraiser at SEMA headquarters. The event featured 250 unique vehicles and was attended by 500 industry folks and volunteers, including SEMA staff, and it raised $6,000.

“It was such a fun event, but the best part was just seeing how generous people are,” White said, noting that all donations to SEMA Cares are distributed equally among the charities. “What these charities need is cash, so where we can really make a difference is raising funds for them. We are so lucky to work in this industry and have an opportunity to pay it forward to help people who haven’t been that fortunate.”

To donate to SEMA Cares, go to

Five for Our Future

The SEMA Memorial Scholarship Fund has been around since the mid-’80s. The fund has traditionally relied on a combination of large contributions from companies and industry groups, known as founding supporters, and financial support from SEMA to provide tuition assistance to students pursuing careers in the aftermarket as well as loan-forgiveness awards for graduates employed by SEMA-member companies.

Over the years, however, there have been few smaller contributions from individuals, perhaps resulting from nothing more than a lack of awareness that such donations—in any amount, no matter how small—would be welcome. But now, that line of thought may be about to change with the launch of a new grassroots awareness initiative.

Titled “$5 for Our Future,” the program is aimed at helping individuals in the industry gain a better understanding of the scholarship program and how they can actively support it with a modest contribution of five dollars.

“It’s all about engagement and creating an emotional connection,” said SEMA Scholarship Committee Chair Kim Pendergast, CEO of Magnuson. “Many people may not even know that there’s a scholarship committee or how to connect. The work we’re doing is incredibly important, and awareness of the program is critical to its success. We want to engage people, and five dollars is small enough that almost anybody can contribute.”

While noting that substantial contributions are always welcome, Pendergast said, “We would rather have the United Way goal of everybody across the industry contributing small amounts. Just think of how much money we could raise. Which is why $5 for Our Future.”

Visit to donate or learn more about the SEMA Scholarship Program.

Aftermarket Safety Net

 The Automotive Aftermarket Charitable Foundation (AACF) was founded to assist aftermarket automotive members who, due to catastrophic illness or terrible accident, have exhausted all other available resources in maintaining a reasonable existence.

Wildfires, hurricanes, unexpected illness and other calamities can happen anytime, anywhere. Turn on the news or go online and you’re sure to find stories of folks trying to survive desperate situations with nowhere to turn for help. But fortunately for people who work in the aftermarket industry—regardless of market segment or their job—there’s a safety net, and it’s known as the Automotive Aftermarket Charitable Foundation (AACF).

Founded in 1959 by industry members, AACF is the only nonprofit organization dedicated exclusively to assisting individuals in the automotive aftermarket industry and their families. Over the years, AACF has helped hundreds and hundreds of people overcome seemingly insurmountable odds. To support its charitable outreach, AACF relies on contributions from aftermarket companies and leading trade organizations, including SEMA, the Motor Equipment Manufacturers Association, and the Auto Care Association.

“The Automotive Aftermarket Foundation has a long-standing tradition of extending a helping hand to those in need,” said Chris Kersting, SEMA president and CEO. “More specifically, AACF is especially known for its charitable work on behalf of those in the aftermarket industry who need financial assistance in times of hardship. It’s a cause worthy of support.”

“The foundation has provided assistance to countless individuals or their families for nearly 60 years,” said AACF Executive Director Joel Ayres. “This is the only organization helping our own aftermarket community.”

The last few years have been especially busy for AACF, what with a destructive hurricane in Texas, wildfires in California, and other less-publicized disasters or situations that don’t make the news.

As Ayres recalled, after Houston experienced hurricane-related flooding, AACF learned of a couple whose son was suffering from a terminal illness. Both parents worked in the industry but suddenly had no jobs, no housing, and were desperate to spend time with their dying son. To their great relief, AACF quickly provided basic necessities, secured a place to stay, and covered the cost of their son’s funeral.

“That’s our job all year long,” Ayres said. “Most of the people who contact us need immediate help, and we can provide help within 24 to 48 hours. That’s the speed at which we can send a check.

“This is the only organization helping our own family. There are people who understand what we do and are great supporters, and we are grateful for their support. For someone like me who’s been in the industry 40 years, it’s very gratifying to help people.

To learn more about the Automotive Aftermarket Charitable Foundation and how you can help, go to