The American Small Business Championship is back! The national competition, which is hosted by SCORE and made possible with a grant from Sam’s Club, celebrates small business owners and helps them get the tools they need for success. For the first time in the competition’s history, three small businesses took the top honors as grand champions, winning $25,000 each to help grow their businesses. Today we hear from Gary Peterson, founder of One Community Auto in Albuquerque, New Mexico, who created a unique way to help nonprofits raise money through car donations.

I’ve always had a passion to give back to the community. It’s in my blood.

Just as I was getting ready to retire in 2013, after serving my country for 23 years in the United States Air Force, I saw an advertisement in our local newspaper from a charity that needed help refurbishing an old car. Although this particular car was unfixable, I noticed they had an old Chevy Camaro in the back, and I offered to help fix it up instead. The car had been donated to the charity, and I took it home and worked on refurbishing it. I was eventually able to sell the car for $4,000, giving all of the proceeds back to the nonprofit organization.

This sparked the idea for my next venture -- a way for me to help make my community a better place.

The concept was a win-win-win. My company, One Community Auto, would refurbish donated cars and sell them back to our retail lot, using the money to support charities in the local area. Not only would the charities benefit, but individuals who donate their cars would get a higher tax deduction by participating in the program, and the community could trust that they are getting a decent used car that is completely refurbished and inspected.

As I started building this dream, I realized I had to get some training on how to open a business. Transitioning from my career in the Air Force with no business background, I was overwhelmed by all of the different hats that a small business owner has to wear. One day I was the janitor, and the next day I was the accountant. I quickly began to look for help and realized that there are so many available resources for small businesses. After taking advantage of several small business support organizations in the area, I connected with SCORE.

My SCORE mentor helped me realize that my small business dream could become a reality. Together, we worked closely on developing my overall business plan and the strategic direction for One Community Auto. My mentor has been available to me throughout my journey and has answered questions, offered guidance and helped me solve unexpected challenges. And now, I’m honored to be chosen as a grand champion of the 2017 American Small Business Championship.

Today, my company One Community Auto serves 22 local non-profits, and I look forward to continuing to serve our community here in Albuquerque. I plan to use the $25,000 grand prize made possible by Sam’s Club to help take advantage of additional career and networking opportunities, and also to help expand our company by opening a donation center where we can accept goods other than cars and help get these resources to the people in our area who need them.

To anyone who is just beginning their small business journey, I encourage you to find the courage to jump right in. Don’t be nervous to share your story with anyone who will listen, and don’t be afraid to ask for help. You are not alone in this adventure, and there are so many resources and people out there who want to see you succeed.

Follow along as we hear from the other ASBC grand champions, like Gina Grillo from Grillo Essentials , who found a renewed purpose for her business after contracting Lyme disease. Next up: A standout small business owner who focuses on training the “complete athlete” – which means exceling in athletics and academics.