Photo by Frank Prager
AMVAC founder James Kravec (left) and AMVAC Director Ewin Knezevich with one of the cars being restored at the facility on Broadway in Alton.
ALTON — After the vehicle in which he was riding hit an improvised explosive device in Iraq, doctors told James Kravec he would never walk again. Today, Kravec not only walks but is growing a business meant to help veterans challenged by circumstances experienced during their service to our country.
Proving the doctor’s prognosis wrong was a matter of personal willpower as well as attitude.
“I recovered because I had a purpose,” Kravec says.
That purpose was to find a way help other veterans challenged by situations resulting from their war experiences.
“When I was looking for a job, everyone kept telling me to go to school,” he says. “I wanted to find work – something I could do with my hands.”
That was when Kravec decided to start a business that would help veterans find work.
He started American Military Veterans Assistance Corporation (AMVAC) in 2011. He initially began by recycling computers and electronics. The business grew over time to employ 10 full-time veterans involved in processing and recycling the parts.
The business continues to expand. In 2013, AMVAC recycled 1.8 million pounds of computers and electronics. In 2014, almost 5 million pounds were recycled. The facility now also recycles books, clothing and shoes, finding sales outlets both on line and in stores.
Kravec finds ways to employ veterans whose challenges would otherwise keep them from finding jobs.
“Employers do not want to hire veterans suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder or physical disabilities,” Kravec says. “All these veterans often need is just a chance to prove themselves.”
AMVAC Director Ewin Knezevich tells of one veteran they hired who was able to get an established employment record by working for them for a year, then went on to an even better job.
“It’s a way for people to take a first step that would otherwise not be available to them,” he says.
AMVAC opened a facility in Alton earlier this year that is serving as a business incubator, employing veterans in similar situations. Cars are under restoration at the facility. Knezevich says the restored cars will be sold to raise money to grow the business.
“We take no grants or tax money,” Knezevich says. “AMVAC is totally self-sufficient. We’re not looking for money. We’re looking for recyclables.”
Located at 3685 East Broadway in the old Nissan auto sales building, the facility will also eventually serve as a resale shop for clothing, books and other donated items.
A resurfacing business has also been started at the Alton location, in which rust and tarnish is removed from metal surfaces through a special abrasive blasting process.
“This is veterans helping veterans,” Kravec says. “We can also put veterans in touch with counselors for mental and legal help.”
He says when veterans with problems are hired by non-veterans, it is often not easy for them to talk to their employer about their challenges.
Anyone wanting to donate computers, electronics, books, or gently worn clothing or shoes can take them to the Alton location. They can also contact Knezevich at (618) 971-7144.
“A lot of veterans have skills and are not looking for a handout,” Kravec says. “They are just looking for a purpose and a job. AMVAC can give those people an opportunity they did not think they would have.”