Petra Cares is a nonprofit organization founded by Arnold Gacita in 2021 and is dedicated to creating a positive pathway for at-risk youth aging out of foster care through its partnership with Lone Star College.

Through its Petra Cares Automotive Training Program, the partnership provides at-risk youth with the tools needed to complete an automotive course and obtain a certification as a mechanic or auto technician within seven weeks.

Giving back

Petra Automotive Products, an automotive maintenance product retail shop, was founded by Gacita in 2010. Gacita said he felt a calling to create a charitable arm through Petra Automotive Products that would help aid homelessness or food insecurity.

In the process of searching for a charity to start, Gacita said he encountered an issue brought up to him during his time as a member of the Houston Hispanic Chamber of Commerce.

Petra Cares Executive Director Brian Meza said 25,000-30,000 youth in America age out of foster care every year.

“The statistics are harrowing. Within three years, up to 80% of them will either be homeless, in prison or dead because they have limited options,” he said.

This led Gacita to realize the need for resources to help youth aging out of foster care.

“In the company, we've always believed in giving back. We know it's a God thing because it wasn't our idea. Somebody came and said there's a need that we didn't even know existed, and we said, ‘Let's do something about this,’ and it's been an incredible ride since,” Gacita said.

The results

Petra Cares partnered with Lone Star College to create a course that would condense a 192-hour program or a full semester into a seven-week course.

During the seven-week course, students are taught the history of the automotive industry, autoshop safety and the basics of autoshop as well as the electric components of automobiles.

“We're teaching them a valuable skill so that they can create value in the marketplace. That's the key,” Meza said.

Along with a job opportunity upon completion, Petra Cares provides transportation, tools, books and guidance to remove any barriers students may face.

“The beauty of our seven-week program is a lot of these kids can't see past their own nose, and we're saying, ‘Hey, go to college four years and get a degree.’ That's such a far-fetched, outlandish idea to them because they just don't have the support,” Meza said.

Since its establishment, Petra Cares has enlisted 33 students in its program, graduated 19 and placed 15 in jobs. Meza said Petra Cares maintains communication with students who complete the program to continue guiding them through their path.

“We're changing kids’ lives every day all day long, and generations to come and people are opening up their hearts and their lives to this cause, and it's incredible,” Gacita said.