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Cleaning more than cars

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Sean Burke, 27, of Roanoke, and manager Brad Karns, of Martinsburg, W.Va., buff a pickup at Starman Auto Detailing at 9538 Congress St., in New Market. The car detailing business is an outreach of the Shenandoah Valley Teen Challenge, based in Basye. Rich Cooley/Daily

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Landon Shaff, 21, of Roanoke, applies a vinyl and leather protectant inside a pickup truck he is detailng inside Starman Auto Detailing, at 9538 Congress St. in New Market while Brad Karns, manager, buffs the rear of the vehicle. Rich Cooley/Daily

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Sean Burke, 27, of Roanoke, buffs this pickup truck at Starman Auto Detailing at 9538 Congress St.,in New Market. Rich Cooley/Daily

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Sean Burke, 27, of Roanoke, buffs this pickup truck at Starman Auto Detailing at 9538 Congress St.,in New Market. Rich Cooley/Daily

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Mike Pampillonia, 32, of Gaithersburg, Md., left, and Landon Shaff, 21, right, of Roanoke, share a laugh while detailing a pickup truck he is detailng inside Starman Auto Detailing. Rich Cooley/Daily

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Brad Karns, manager of Starman Auto Detailing chats Thursday outside the business in New Market. Rich Cooley/Daily

Vehicle detailing business serves as outreach program

By Preston Knight -- pknight@nvdaily.com

NEW MARKET -- The experience Brad Karns needed to start a car wash and detail shop does not derive from when he helped friends in advance of car shows while he was growing up.

The necessary background came as he lay outside of a bar after being pummeled by, what he's been told, 10 people on Nov. 10, 2010, during another night of drinking.

There's symmetry there, but that's hardly been the standard in Karns' life, which has jumped around from normal to bad to worse to, as the manager now of his own car wash and detail shop on Congress Street, perfectly content.

"The only options I had were death or prison," said Karns, 35, of Martinsburg, W.Va., "and I wanted to make things right."

Starman Auto Detailing, at 9538 Congress St., is an outreach of the Shenandoah Valley Teen Challenge, the local chapter -- now based in Basye, as of Oct. 1 -- of a worldwide faith-based recovery program for people 17 years and older struggling with substance abuse and other addictions. For Karns, it was a trifecta of alcohol, drugs and gambling.

He said he made it through high school without even sniffing a substance, and landed a government job at 17. It was a curse in disguise -- Karns interacted with people older than him and, in trying to fit in, started on a "downward spiral" with substances and gambling, he said.

He had two DUIs and, as he went from job to job, woke up each day and drank. Karns' fiancee eventually left him, informing him she couldn't tell if he had six or 30 beers on any given occasion. When he was bad, he was real bad.

Last November, Karns was jumped outside of a bar and left for dead, he said. At the hospital the following day, he decided it was time to turn his life around. With the help of a cousin, Karns entered the teen challenge, and is scheduled to graduate next month.
"People who know me, they see a difference in me," he said. "I'm amazed at what can happen in a short period of time."

Pastor Justin Franich opened a worship center featuring the recovery program in Mt. Jackson two years ago. The teen challenge lasted for four months at first, splitting its members between living in Mt. Jackson and a farmhouse in Broadway. In the past year, Karns said the challenge expanded to a yearlong program, and the move to Basye will allow it to have a centralized location and house as many as 60 people in need.

As members progress through the program, they are thrust into leadership positions. That enabled Karns to open Starman in March.

"So many young kids need help," said Nancy Mellin, a New Market resident who came with her husband, Bill, for work on his truck.

Of his truck, Bill Mellin said "It's cleaner than when I got it from the dealership."

Three people work alongside Karns, and business has been steady as word spreads about it, he said.

It offers car washes by hand on up to full automotive detailing. Karns wants to expand at some time to double the number of workers, which would create an opportunity for express detailing.

"We spend a lot of time [on customers' cars]," he said.

Sean Burke, 27, of Roanoke, is among the workers. He is two months into the program after a history with heroin abuse and writing bad checks, spending his first time behind bars at 20.

The impact has been instant -- Burke is convinced that without the teen challenge, he would be in a ditch, jail or prison today.

"I just feel totally different," Burke said. "It's really cool. It's like a brotherhood."

Once Karns graduates, he plans to stay with the program for another year, giving back to what saved his life while growing his shop.

The customer base so far has been primarily from the New Market area, though with some interest from Luray and Harrisonburg. There has yet to be much in the way of advertising, however.

Experience tells Karns that the business can survive -- because the people behind the operation know how painful the alternative can be.

"We went from alcohol and drug addicts to Jesus addicts," Burke said. "It's not a bad trade."

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