Students ‘Xcited’ to work with mentors

If you think restoring a classic car is hard work, try fitting it in around a busy high school schedule.

Winston School junior Benjamin White does; every spare moment he gets he’s in his Del Mar garage restoring a classic Mustang back to health. Always at his side is his mentor Tyler Johnson, a former mechanic.

Benjamin said he and Johnson are a perfect pair — they both love to get their hands dirty.

The two self-described “gear heads” were brought together by Club Xcite, based in Solana Beach. Xcite offers students social and behavioral mentoring and help in academics, athletics and self-esteem.

Benjamin and Johnson have had their mentor relationship for more than a year. Together they built a flight simulator cockpit that makes Benjamin’s computer look like a fighter jet and also worked on a motorbike.

“I work with a lot of kids, but Benjamin definitely has a lot of enthusiasm and potential,” Johnson said. “He’s grateful and it makes me happy. It’s definitely a good relationship.”

Johnson used to be a full-time mechanic, but he got out of the trade to pursue his hobby as an amateur racecar driver and take the opportunity to work with youngters. Benjamin was Johnson’s first mentee — he now has three.

“The best part about Club Xcite is seeing a change in a kid’s life,” Johnson said, “And it’s inspired friends and family to help out in a kid’s life as well and that’s important.”

Stefan Hochfilzer, who founded Xcite in 2001 when he was 21, said students respond well to Johnson and get pumped up for their “Tyler Time.”

“Tyler’s one of our best mentors,” Hochfilzer said. “He’s great at connecting with kids.”

Johnson and Benjamin found the Mustang on Craigslist and have been working on it since May. Over the summer, they spent as much as 10 hours a week on the car. Now, with school in full swing, every Monday the two dedicate at least an hour to their work.

Recently, they pulled the engine out of the car, which was a three-hour process. They’ll work on the engine before “reuniting” it with the car, Johnson said. Someone else will do the painting and interior work, but they plan to put on the vinyl top themselves.

Benjamin envisions a silver color for the car and nothing flashy on the interior — he wants to restore the Mustang to its “previous glory”

The process itself doesn’t take a long time, Johnson said, adding that funds are their only issue.

“I’d like to see it done before the end of high school so I can drive it as a senior,” Benjamin said.

Hochfilzer said what makes Club Xcite work is providing that older brother or sister-type who can help with homework or sports as well as be a sounding board for their problems.

Mentor John Foletta was recently a chaperone on one of his mentee’s first dates and even taught him to shave during their four years together.

“We help kids come to terms with their shortcomings and put them in perspective,” Foletta said. “We all hit bumps and have temporary problems. We’re all working to improve.”

Just as Club Xcite has been able to help mentor Benjamin, he’s become somewhat of a mentor himself. This summer, Benjamin was a peer counselor at one of Club Xcite’s robotic camps, helping first- through third-graders make robots and bottle rockets.

“Benjamin really helped out with the kids,” Foletta said. “He did a good job.”

To learn more about Club Xcite’s offerings or to become a mentor, visit excite