The Car Dealer Turned World Healer

Meet the team that helps Troy Duhon make a global difference

No man is an island and no hero works in isolation. Behind those making a difference in the world – those whose stories are often and rightfully celebrated – is a support team that relentlessly works to make change possible. In ways big and small, material and spiritual, this community of allies work hard to create a better world. These are their stories.

THE HERO

Troy Duhon

Co-Founder, Giving Hope New Orleans; Owner, Premier Automotive Group

Photo by Aubrey Edwards

In the late summer of 2005, Hurricane Katrina and the floods that followed left Troy Duhon with five submerged car dealerships, including an untold number of ruined automobiles—and a greater sense of purpose. As head of the Premier Automotive Group, he was among the first to open his doors to relief organizations, which used his dealerships as a staging ground for a food and resource distribution center to help those returning to their flooded city. It was a time for starting over. Following his father into the automotive-sales business to pay for college, he worked his way up from the showroom floor to management positions. Eventually, at age 30, he became the owner of a dealership. He enjoyed the fact that he might be selling a car to a CEO one day and fulfilling the first-car dreams of a teenager the next. Struck by the good provided by the distribution center, Duhon partnered with the New Orleans Mission, a local homeless sanctuary. In 2013, he founded Giving Hope, a nonprofit dedicated to offering food, clothing, shelter, fellowship and freedom to the world’s most vulnerable individuals. Its slogan is “Where Love Changes Everything.” Premier’s dealerships, which have grown to nearly two dozen in number, pledge $25 for each auto sold to the food pantries, orphanages and rehabilitation centers founded and funded by Giving Hope. “Profit for a purpose,” Duhon says of his commitment to use his businesses to help people—to provide a bit of hope—each and every day.

THE ALLY

Betty Thomas

Director of Operations, Food Pantry of New Orleans

From that initial food-distribution center came Giving Hope’s first project: the Food Pantry of New Orleans. Since its start in the fall of 2013, Betty Thomas has worked as the pantry’s chief of operations. Tuesday through Saturday, she manages the preparation and distribution of several hundred hot meals. While the dinners are available to anyone who can make it to the center, located on the premise of Premier’s headquarters, most of the meals are shuttled to elderly homes and to needy families throughout New Orleans. This year, the pantry is on pace to serve 175,000 hot meals—from local favorites like red beans and rice to traditional suppers like spaghetti and meatballs—all cooked on a four-burner commercial stove. In addition, the pantry provides free boxes of groceries to over 850 food-insecure households each month. Over the years, Thomas has developed partnerships with local and national grocers, restaurants and food banks to get much of the food donated. “A city known for food,” Thomas likes to say, “should not have hungry people.”

Photo by Aubrey Edwards

Photo Gallery: Snapshots of the day-to-day operations of The Food Panty of New Orleans.

Photo Gallery: Snapshots of the day-to-day operations of The Food Panty of New Orleans.

THE ALLY

Tracey Duhon

Co-Founder, Giving Hope New Orleans

Photo by Aubrey Edwards

Troy Duhon met the woman who would become his wife on a showroom floor. He sold her a Nissan Stanza and then asked her out on a date. Since their marriage in 1995, Tracy Duhon and her husband have raised four children. After the couple adopted their youngest daughter from China in 2013—a process that took over seven years—Tracy took the lead on a trio of Giving Hope’s outreach programs that focus on the plight of underprivileged women and children around the world. The first, Hope for a Home, works to financially assist and emotionally support families throughout the adoption process. The Hope Against Trafficking project endeavors to end the exploitation of women, while working to house and rehabilitate women who are victims of trafficking. In 2014, the Duhons launched their most ambitious project yet, a shelter for orphaned children in Hyderabad, India, called the Hope House. Over the next two years, they opened additional Hope Houses in La Entrada, Honduras, and Banjul, Gambia. The Duhons’ goal is to establish similar orphanages to house at-risk youth on every continent, in addition to a 1,000-bed recovery, retreat and refuge center for men and women just outside the city of New Orleans.

THE ALLY

Ben Comer

Co-Founder, Giving Hope New Orleans

As executive director of Giving Hope, Ben Comer’s job is to balance the tension that exists between the business and the community-based projects the nonprofit sponsors. From New Orleans to San Francisco, each Premier employee is encouraged to stay active within their local communities by taking an annual Hope Day: paid volunteer service scheduled during ordinary workdays. Additionally, Giving Hope invites and aids local businesses, religious organizations and civic groups to participate in their own Hope Days.
The toughest part of Comer’s job is bringing each dealership that Premier opens or acquires into their culture of community service. He interfaces with Giving Hope coordinators based at each location to build an organic structure that is motivated to do the most good locally while engaging with the greater network of Hope-supported projects, to make sure that giving back remains at the heart of Premier’s mission. “There’s plenty of things we do,” Comer says, “just because it’s the right thing to do.”

Photo by Aubrey Edwards

THE ALLY

James Evans

President and COO, Premier Automotive Group

Today the Premier Automotive Group has 23 dealerships located across five states in addition to Louisiana: California, Indiana, Kansas, Tennessee and Missouri. Representing a dozen domestic and Asian import car brands, Premier sold 40,000 cars last year, totaling over 1 billion in sales. As president and COO, James Evans says it takes heart in addition to good business sense to run the nation’s 34th largest automotive group. An auto-industry lifer, he came aboard in 2013 inspired by the dynamic relationship that connects Premier to Giving Hope, the greater New Orleans area and beyond. With over 1,500 employees under his leadership, Evans oversees the Premier University program, which promises monthly training sessions and new career opportunities to every employee with the hopes of retention and internal growth. Some of the more recent employees are graduates of Giving Hope’s prison re-entry program, which works with the Louisiana State Penitentiary to offer mentorship and potential job placement with Premier to formerly incarcerated men.

This feature was produced in collaboration between The Foundry and Ally.
The editorial staff was not involved with the creation or production of this content.

©2016. TIME Inc. All Rights Reserved

This feature was produced in collaboration between The Foundry and Ally.
The editorial staff was not involved with the creation or production of this content.

©2016. TIME Inc. All Rights Reserved