Kids find direction by getting their hands dirty

Updated 6:55 PM EST, Sun December 17, 2017

Story highlights

Aaron Valencia's rough childhood and early substance abuse issues threatened to derail his life

After getting sober, Valencia began to focus on his passion, classic car repair

Valencia now uses his shop as a base to help local at-risk youth learn mechanic skills

Aaron Valencia has been selected as a 2017 Top 10 CNN Hero. Voting is now underway to select the Hero of the Year, to be revealed during ‘CNN Heroes: An All-Star Tribute,’ airing live, Sunday, Dec. 17 at 8 p.m. ET.

(CNN) —  

Aaron Valencia was a teenager when his life hit rock bottom.

Growing up in poverty, he was raised by his mother, who was in an abusive relationship.

“I … had to grow up fast in an environment with drugs and alcohol, physical abuse,” Valencia said. “Not having stability took me down.”

02:08 - Source: CNN
2017 CNN Heroes tribute in 2 minutes
Now playing
02:08
2017 CNN Heroes tribute in 2 minutes
These are the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2017
These are the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2017
Now playing
01:32
The 2017 Top 10 CNN Heroes
Young Wonder Christina Li. Photographed by Robert Humphreys for CNN in Stanford, CA.
PHOTO: Robert Humphreys/CNN
Young Wonder Christina Li. Photographed by Robert Humphreys for CNN in Stanford, CA.
Now playing
08:29
CNN Young Wonder: Christina Li
Campbell Remess
Project 365 by Campbell---making teddy bears for ill children
Tasmania, Australia
PHOTO: CNN
Campbell Remess Project 365 by Campbell---making teddy bears for ill children Tasmania, Australia
Now playing
07:51
CNN Young Wonder: Campbell Remess
Young Wonder Sidney Keys III. Photographed by CNN Producer Meghan Dunn in Hazelwood, MO (suburb of St. Louis).
PHOTO: Meghan Dunn/CNN
Young Wonder Sidney Keys III. Photographed by CNN Producer Meghan Dunn in Hazelwood, MO (suburb of St. Louis).
Now playing
07:29
CNN Young Wonder: Sidney Keys III
Haile Thomas
The HAPPY Organization---nutritional education for kids by a kid
New Windsor, NY
PHOTO: CNN
Haile Thomas The HAPPY Organization---nutritional education for kids by a kid New Windsor, NY
Now playing
07:23
CNN Young Wonder: Haile Thomas
Ryan Hickman
Ryan’s Recycling---recycling program run by young environmentalist
San Juan Capistrano, CA
PHOTO: Allie Torgan/CNN
Ryan Hickman Ryan’s Recycling---recycling program run by young environmentalist San Juan Capistrano, CA
Now playing
07:33
CNN Young Wonder: Ryan Hickman
CNN Hero Aaron Valencia's Lost Angels Children's Project provides an after-school program with a focus on classic car restoration for low-income, foster and at-risk youth.
PHOTO: Allie Torgan/CNN
CNN Hero Aaron Valencia's Lost Angels Children's Project provides an after-school program with a focus on classic car restoration for low-income, foster and at-risk youth.
Now playing
02:54
CNN Hero helps youths restore cars, their hope
cnn heroes patel mixed_00021930.jpg
cnn heroes patel mixed_00021930.jpg
Now playing
03:01
CNN Hero helps fellow amputees find hope
CNN Hero Rosie Mashale started a free daycare center and later an orphanage in her home for children in need in Cape Town, South Africa.
PHOTO: Marion Edmunds for CNN
CNN Hero Rosie Mashale started a free daycare center and later an orphanage in her home for children in need in Cape Town, South Africa.
Now playing
02:45
Rescuing Cape Town's 'left behind' children
cnn heroes morissette nonprofit mixed _00005011.jpg
cnn heroes morissette nonprofit mixed _00005011.jpg
Now playing
02:30
Robots help sick kids attend school
CNN Hero Samir Lakhani, wearing glasses, poses with staff at the Eco-Soap Bank--an organization he founded to provide soap and hygiene education to Cambodians in need.
PHOTO: Sharon Radisch/Photographers Without Borders
CNN Hero Samir Lakhani, wearing glasses, poses with staff at the Eco-Soap Bank--an organization he founded to provide soap and hygiene education to Cambodians in need.
Now playing
02:25
How CNN Hero uses soap to save lives
Now playing
02:53
Barbecue to the rescue?
PHOTO: Kathleen Toner/CNN
Now playing
02:33
CNN Hero puts people with disabilities to work
CNN Hero Jennifer Maddox, a member of the Chicago Police Department, also runs an after school program for kids who need a safe space to grow.
PHOTO: Marissa Calhoun/CNN
CNN Hero Jennifer Maddox, a member of the Chicago Police Department, also runs an after school program for kids who need a safe space to grow.
Now playing
02:24
Chicago cop gives kids back their childhood
CNN Hero Andrew Manzi runs Warrior Surf, an organization that encourages military veterans to surf therapeutically and seek counseling post combat.
PHOTO: Meghan Dunn, CNN
CNN Hero Andrew Manzi runs Warrior Surf, an organization that encourages military veterans to surf therapeutically and seek counseling post combat.
Now playing
02:52
Vet uses surfing to help soldiers heal
Khali Sweeney
PHOTO: Meghan Dunn/CNN
Khali Sweeney
Now playing
02:31
Detroit boxing gym gives youth a fighting chance
Now playing
02:45
Top 10 CNN Hero Rosie Mashale
CNN Heroes Manzi mixed _00005521.jpg
CNN Heroes Manzi mixed _00005521.jpg
Now playing
02:47
Top 10 CNN Hero Andrew Manzi
cnn heroes morissette nonprofit mixed _00005011.jpg
cnn heroes morissette nonprofit mixed _00005011.jpg
Now playing
02:30
Top 10 CNN Hero Leslie Morissette
Now playing
02:25
Top 10 CNN Hero Samir Lakhani
cnn heroes jennifer maddox chicago_00001924.jpg
cnn heroes jennifer maddox chicago_00001924.jpg
Now playing
02:24
Top 10 CNN Hero Jennifer Maddox
Now playing
02:48
Top 10 CNN Hero Stan Hays
CNN Heroes Khali Sweeney_00005918.jpg
CNN Heroes Khali Sweeney_00005918.jpg
Now playing
02:31
Top 10 CNN Hero Khali Sweeney
CNN Hero Mona Patel
PHOTO: Allie Torgan/CNN
CNN Hero Mona Patel
Now playing
02:57
Top 10 CNN Hero Mona Patel
cnn heroes valencia mixed_00011730.jpg
cnn heroes valencia mixed_00011730.jpg
Now playing
02:49
Top 10 CNN Hero Aaron Valencia
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
02:33
Top 10 CNN Hero Amy Wright
These are the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2017
These are the Top 10 CNN Heroes of 2017
Now playing
02:36
Meet the top 10 CNN Heroes of 2017
cnn heroes morissette philbot extra _00001417.jpg
cnn heroes morissette philbot extra _00001417.jpg
Now playing
02:02
CNN Heroes: What is a Philbot?
cnn heroes mashale extra_00004116.jpg
PHOTO: CNN
cnn heroes mashale extra_00004116.jpg
Now playing
02:20
CNN Hero Rosie Mashale: Child-headed households
PHOTO: CNN
Now playing
02:43
CNN Hero Stan Hays: Service to country
cnn heroes manzi extra _00020730.jpg
cnn heroes manzi extra _00020730.jpg
Now playing
02:34
CNN Hero Andrew Manzi: Warrior Surf
CNN Heroes Sweeney Extra_00011010.jpg
CNN Heroes Sweeney Extra_00011010.jpg
Now playing
02:07
CNN Hero Khali Sweeney: Don't box me in
cnn heroes valencia extra_00021726.jpg
PHOTO: CNN
cnn heroes valencia extra_00021726.jpg
Now playing
02:23
CNN Hero Aaron Valencia: The kids inspired him
cnn heroes maddox extra chicago _00003525.jpg
cnn heroes maddox extra chicago _00003525.jpg
Now playing
02:08
CNN Heroes: Beyond the beat
Now playing
01:48
CNN Heroes: From hotel soap to Eco-Soap
cnn heroes patel extra_00012717.jpg
PHOTO: CNN
cnn heroes patel extra_00012717.jpg
Now playing
02:40
CNN Hero Mona Patel: Sparkle Twins
cnn heroes wright extra_00023826.jpg
PHOTO: CNN
cnn heroes wright extra_00023826.jpg
Now playing
02:45
CNN Heroes: 'Welcome to Bitty & Beau's!'