Brent Ayres was a four-year varsity letter winner at Deptford Township High School as a bowler. He advanced to the state tournament as a junior and was named to the All-Area team by the South Jersey Times in each of his last two seasons.
But his real passion is cars.
Ayres has worked on cars for as long as he can remember, whether it was his dad’s S-10 pickup truck, his grandmother’s 1995 Chevy Corsica, or a friend or neighbor’s vehicle that needed a look from someone with automotive expertise.
“If people had general issues they’d say, ‘Brent, what do you think?’” his mother Lee Ann Ayres said. “Even me, he tried to diagnose my car all the time. He’s always been a tinkerer, build stuff with K’NEX, always very good working with his hands.”
As his senior year was approaching, Brent Ayres knew what he wanted to do post-high school, he just wasn’t sure where the right path or opportunity would come. A visit to Pennco Tech in Blackwood in September helped answer half of the equation and a Google search for trade school scholarships unlocked another.
Among the internet search answers for “trade school scholarships” that Ayres and his parents found was one headed by television personality Mike Rowe.
The “Dirty Jobs” host has a charitable organization, Mike Rowe Works, that funds a Work Ethic Scholarship program. A couple hundred scholarships are awarded annually to deserving students who fill out an application, write an essay, post a YouTube video, and get at least two teacher recommendation letters.
Brent Ayres gathered eight of the latter – seven from teachers, one from a guidance counselor. He was also one of the 202 scholarship winners.
“I’m grateful, because it helped out a lot with the costs,” Ayres said.
About three months after sending his materials to Rowe’s foundation, during a stressful, uncertain time between graduation and July 4, Ayres finally heard back. When the family hadn’t heard back in May, when scholarship recipients were told they’d be notified, and still hadn’t been notified by the time school ended in June, they figured it wasn’t meant to be.
Instead, they received a pleasant Independence Day surprise: Ayres was one of three seniors in New Jersey (and the only in South Jersey) to be awarded a Work Ethic scholarship from Rowe’s foundation.
Fittingly, he and his father, Howard, were long-time viewers of “Dirty Jobs.”
“When we hadn’t heard back, I was like, ‘It’s OK, Brent, you put the effort in and you tried, that’s all we can do,’” Lee Ann Ayres said. “Then I was scrolling through looking at my emails and sure enough it says, ‘Mike Rowe Foundation. I clicked on it.’”
Brent, who was driving with friends out near the Poconos on a fireworks-finding mission, heard his phone ring.
“She called me around 8 or 9 at night and was freaking out on the phone,” Brent recalled. “We were trying to navigate through Pennsylvania.”
Once the 18-year-old Ayres returned home he could enjoy the last few weeks of summer knowing he had some financial help – the scholarship check is written out to Pennco Tech for $8,500 – before enrolling in a 12-month program in late August.
“Very proud,” said Howard Ayres, a machinist who has spent the last three decades making submarine parts for the Navy. “I’m glad he’s taking up a trade. Everyone goes to college now. And it’s too bad the high schools are geared for college. People are different, not everyone goes to college, you know? You need trades people out there anyway. Who out there is going to be fixing the cars, fixing the pipes in the house, and (becoming) the electricians?”
“Brent always preaches trade, trade, trade,” Lee Ann Ayres said. “He’d tell (fellow classmates), ‘Think about plumbing, or air conditioning’ all the time. He’d always say he wished Deptford had more trade. And now they are bringing in a carpentry program. He’d always say, ‘Do a trade.’ Not everyone is meant to go to college. And the market is saturated (in a lot of the careers people go to college for).”
In addition to what his mom refers to as “the Dirty Jobs guy scholarship,” Brent was also recognized for his Outstanding Achievement in Building Trades by the Deptford Education Association, received the Marine Rose Program Scholastic Achievement award, the Garden State Model A regional award, the Thomas E. Flood Memorial Landscaping award, and a Deptford Township Little League volunteerism award, according to his parents.
Brent Ayres will begin his yearlong education and instruction toward earning status as a certified mechanic on Aug 22. Thanks to some detective work online, he has some help in working toward that goal.
And hopefully sometime next fall, buoyed by a scholarship, Ayres will be finished with schooling and ready to start a career as a mechanic before his 20th birthday.