United Way pilots career program in 3 SWVA schools

Announced during the 2016 SWVA Careers Expo for Youth

Abingdon, VA (November 15, 2016) – A new program of United Way of Southwest Virginia has big plans for the next generation of employees in the region. The first of its kind in the area, the Ignite program provides middle school and high school students with real-world career advice and helps them see what options are available locally for employment.

During the November 15 press conference at the 2016 SWVA Careers Expo for Youth, the United Way of Southwest Virginia announced its partnership with local employers and local schools.

Crystal Breeding, Program Manager for Ignite, said, “We are bridging the gap between schools and employers across the region. We know how important it is to invest in Southwest Virginia’s students, and we want them to be ready for and aware of the career opportunities they have right here at home.”

Ignite has set out to spark interests in students’ career opportunities by providing career guidance, job shadowing, mentoring, and work-based learning through community connections.

The program allows schools to set career guidance goals for each student based on their interests and skills. Ignite provides lesson plans for teachers and offers resume building, career coaching, soft skill development, and an online platform with games and a career journal. Parents can keep up with their students’ career aspirations through an integration into PowerSchool’s Parent Portal, a leading K-12 education technology platform the schools use for family engagement.

Dr. Keith Perrigan, superintendent of Norton City Schools said in a statement of support, “United Way of Southwest Virginia has been an instrumental partner for me and the students I have served throughout my career.  In Norton, United Way has funded a pre-k classroom for our elementary school and is assisting our middle school students with career exploration via Ignite. Without this unique community/school partnership, hundreds of students in Southwest Virginia would have missed amazing opportunities. The United Way of Southwest Virginia is not only a non-profit organization, they are also legacy builders, ensuring a strong future in our local communities.”

Dr. Brian Ratliff, superintendent of Washington County Public Schools said during Tuesday’s press conference, “This particular program, we were excited about from its first mention, because of the focus on middle school students in particular, and career development. We often say throughout Washington County Public Schools that school improvement includes a lot of things, but the most important thing is people improvement. It’s not just about exposing these students to occupations and career paths. It’s about equipping them with the soft skills like communication to go along with what we call the hard skills. As young adults, they get to have interactions with adults who have been there – they’ve done that – they understand what it takes to be involved in the industry and in the career market. I think what we’re going to see is individual kids take on a mantle and accept ownership of their learning and their leadership in such a way that it’s going to make a difference in the community.”

Ratliff continued, “We are able to ‘Ignite’ and fuel the fire within our middle school kids. The market’s going to change. The jobs are going to change. We have no clue what we are going to face, but what we can do is make a considerable contribution to the lives of our students by teaching them skillsets that prepare them to have career readiness – for some jobs that haven’t even been created yet. Now, that – is exciting. Thank you, United Way, for your investment in Washington County Schools. We are excited about what’s going to transpire with this program, and thank you for the event today; our kids are already excited about what’s taking place.”

Program Manager Crystal Breeding says in order for Ignite to work, it’s going to take collaboration, from all sectors in our community. Several Southwest Virginia employers already support and participate in the program including Crutchfield Corporation, Universal Fibers, and Johnston Memorial Hospital. This semester, over 1,000 students are enrolled in the program through partnerships with J. I. Burton High School in Norton, E. B. Stanley Middle School in Washington County, and Chilhowie Middle School in Smyth County.

School administrators, volunteer mentors, employers, or sponsors interested in the new Ignite program can contact Ignite Program Manager, Crystal Breeding, at cbreeding@unitedwayswva.org or 276.525.4073.

Ignite, a program of United Way of Southwest Virginia, works to spark interests in students’ career opportunities.
The program connects schools and students with employers and employees through career guidance, shadowing, mentoring, and work-based learning. Ignite helps middle school and high school students realize their potential and work to be ready to enter and advance in the region’s workplace. More information about the Ignite program can be found online at netnswvarelief.wpengine.com/ignite.

The 2016 SWVA Careers Expo for Youth was a
collaboration between Ignite (a program of United Way of Southwest Virginia) and Washington County 4-H, and was sponsored by Southwest Virginia Alliance for Manufacturing’s Center Of Excellence. The event, held November 15-16 from 8am-3pm at the Higher Ed Center in Abingdon, VA, introduced over 800 local eighth grade students to career choices in Southwest Virginia, the importance of interview skills, and the “reality” of life through a Reality Store.

Throughout the day, students made their way to different stations at the Higher Ed Center as part of the Reality Store – a simulation of real-life expenses such as paying a mortgage at First Bank & Trust and buying groceries at Food Country. Students were even stopped along the way and issued a ticket by the Abingdon Town Police and assigned specific health conditions by the Washington County Lifesaving Crew. In addition to the Reality Store, students attended demonstrations that explained how electricians, members of a SWAT team, conservation police officers, and other local careers impact life in Southwest Virginia.

Schools participating in the event included Glade Spring Middle School (Glade Spring, VA – Washington County Public Schools), Wallace Middle School (Bristol, VA – Washington County Public Schools), Damascus Middle School (Damascus, VA – Washington County Public Schools), Chilhowie Middle School (Chilhowie, VA – Smyth County Schools), E.B. Stanley Middle School (Abingdon, VA – Washington County Public Schools), and J.I. Burton High School (Norton, VA – Norton City Schools).

The local employers that provided career demonstrations at the 2016 SWVA Careers Expo for Youth were Food City, Universal Fibers, Utility Trailer, Johnston Memorial Hospital, Berry Home Centers, Southwest Virginia Alliance for Manufacturing’s Center Of Excellence, Virginia Department of Game and Inland Fisheries, Nancy Culberson, Virginia Department of Education, and Washington County SWAT.

Some of the reality store participants at the 2016 SWVA Careers Expo for Youth included Food Country, Farm Credit & Realtors Association, First Bank & Trust, Highlands Union Bank, Pioneer Chevrolet, Farm Bureau, Abingdon Town Police, and more.