Ignite Program 2017-09-20T19:02:12+00:00

Program Overview

Across the United Way of Southwest Virginia service area, the Ignite Program is investing in the next generation of Southwest Virginia’s workforce through career awareness and hands-on learning for almost 30,000 students.

The Ignite Program connects schools and students with employers and employees, enabling middle school and high school students to realize their potential and be ready to enter and advance in Southwest Virginia’s workforce. We help create connections that keep students engaged in learning – inspiring them to take rigorous courses, build relationships with employers, and prepare for post-secondary education, advanced vocational training, and excelling in the workforce.

The Need

  1. According to the Virginia Department of Education, less than ½ of high school graduates in Southwest Virginia go on to technical training, two-year/four-year higher education or the military.
  2. Based on local employer feedback, Southwest Virginia is experiencing a workforce shortage and cannot fill open positions.
  3. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, in 2005, more than 3,000 of Southwest Virginia’s youth between the ages of 16 and 19 weren’t in school or working.

Program Components

To address the challenges facing tomorrow’s workforce, we have developed the following program components.

  • Career Awareness

  • Hands-on Learning

    • Soft skills curriculum from the Department of Labor (6th-12th grade students)
    • Money management through Reality Check financial simulations (8th grade students)
    • Apprenticeships through a summer youth work program *IN DEVELOPMENT*

Program Participation

Our 2016-2017 pilot to 1,000 students in 3 schools (Chilhowie Middle School, J.I. Burton High School, and E.B. Stanley Middle School) was a great success thanks to many local partnerships and our 38 participating employers. As of the fall of 2017, the pilot components of the program have been taken to scale to 15% of the state of Virginia – in every middle school and high school in our service area.

students participating
schools participating
employers participating
school systems
Educators in Industry teachers participating

Community-wide Benefits

By partnering with the Ignite Program, parents, community partners, and employers can join the efforts of United Way of Southwest Virginia to invest in tomorrow’s workforce, today.


Get real-world advice and find out what options are available locally for employment once you graduate. You’ll get:

  • Online Career Matchmaking
  • Company Tours
  • Online Day-in-the-Life Videos
  • Soft Skill Development (Punctuality, Communication, etc.)
  • Resume Building
  • Career Coach
  • Money Management
  • Online Journal
  • Online Career Games
  • Careers Expo for Youth Participation
  • Work-Based Learning (coming soon)


Help prepare local youth for the workforce, whether you’re currently working or retired. How you can invest your time:

  • Career Coach
  • Guest Speaker
  • Company Tours
  • Careers Expo for Youth Participation
  • Classroom Demonstrations/Activities
  • Advisory Committee Member
  • Mock/Informational Interviews
  • Work-based Learning (coming soon)


Keep up with your students’ career interests with our software’s integration into Power School. You can:

  • See your students’ career aspirations
  • Start conversations about your students’ future
  • Contact guidance counselors and teachers


Obtain software and a career coach that helps you link your students to real employers in your area and guide them in their career choice. You’ll get:

  • Software including Online Student Assessment
  • Classroom Demonstrations
  • Professional Development
  • Pre-made Lesson Plans
  • Careers Expo for Youth Participation

Local Economic Developers

Increased opportunities to recruit outside business/industry to the region with a plan in place to develop a pipeline to a well-prepared workforce.

  • Engaged workforce
  • Cooperation among communities
  • Community-minded employers
  • Career-ready graduates

Parent Resources

Thank you for allowing us this time to inspire and invest in your child. We ask that you encourage your student to cultivate his/her talents and interests by engaging with them and expressing an interest in their future. It’s not too early to make choices in school that will enhance your student’s career later in life.

We’re currently working to build a library of resources for you to help you speak with your child about their career choices.

Link:   7 Ways to Help Your Child Choose a Career

Get Involved

Contact Crystal


Crystal Breeding
Program Manager, Ignite
Phone: 276-525-4073
Fax: 276-525-8484

Other new initiatives focusing on tomorrow’s workforce

Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce: The Written Series

The written “Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce” series was created to shed light on the gap between the worlds of learning and work in our region. In each of the nine articles, we’ll explore current challenges in Southwest Virginia’s workforce through human interest stories.

Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce: The Event

  In September 2017, hosts Steve Smith (Food City), Alan Levine (Mountain States Health Alliance), and Travis Staton (United Way of Southwest Virginia) will bring together our region’s cross-sector leadership for an invitation-only event focused on bridging the gap between the worlds of learning and work.

United Way of Southwest Virginia’s 2017 Careers Expo for Youth

In September 2017, an estimated 4,000 7th grade students from Southwest Virginia will meet face-to-face with employers from Southwest Virginia to see first-hand what it’s like to participate in careers directly from industry professionals.

Learn more about these initiatives