Ignite Program 2018-05-18T15:52:50+00:00

Program Overview

The United Way of Southwest Virginia Ignite Program sparks career interest in the next generation of Southwest Virginia’s workforce through career awareness and skill development.

The program helps bridge the gap between the worlds of learning and work by connecting schools and students with employers and employees. Across the United Way of Southwest Virginia service area, the Ignite Program is investing in the lives of over 29,000 students – enabling middle school and high school students to realize their potential and be ready to enter and advance in the region’s workforce.

The United Way of Southwest Virginia Ignite Program fights for a healthy, educated, and financially stable workforce of tomorrow.

“There were so many careers out there that I didn’t even know about.”


“WE MUST start now (6th grade) in rearing responsible young adults who are willing to work hard in their future.”


“Great community involvement!”


“The Expo was like a day off, but you’re still learning.”


“With the help of the educator tours, I can advise students that there is a purpose for what they’re learning and that hard work is expected far past the years of middle and high school.”


“Every where we went on the educator tours, the employers mentioned soft skills. I think we are so worried about our students getting an education, we sometimes forget the basic skills they need like being on time, talking to others, showing respect, and other soft skills.”


The Need

There’s a gap between the worlds of learning and work. We educated our community about it during Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce. What’s needed is a true “cradle-to-career” continuum: a talent pipeline that prepares the next generation for the jobs of tomorrow, supplies businesses with skilled workers and builds a robust, competitive economy.

  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 2015, more than 3,000 of Southwest Virginia’s youth between the ages of 16 and 19 weren’t in school or working.

“I think this is one of the more innovative and promising projects for the future of not only Southwest Virginia, but the Commonwealth. Coordination between our secondary schools and prospective employers is critical to educating our young people in opportunities available to them, providing skills and experiences that will make them and our region’s workforce more valuable. Providing our existing and future employers with a skilled and informed workforce is a win-win.”

Mike Quillen, Board Chair, Region One, GO Virginia

Program Components

United Way of Southwest Virginia is bringing partners together to address the challenges facing tomorrow’s workforce. We have worked cross-sector to develop the following program components.

Career awareness

Skill development

  • Soft skills curriculum from the Department of Labor to enable students to interact effectively and succeed in the workplace (6th-12th grade students)
  • Financial simulations (Reality Stores from VCE) to introduce concepts of smart money management (8th grade students)
  • Internships to connect classroom learning to on-the-job experience and prepare students with necessary skills to fill workforce gaps (9th-12th grade students) *2018 IN DEVELOPMENT*
  • Credential alignment to ensure education and training programs match employer demand (9th-12th grade students) *2018 IN DEVELOPMENT*
  • Project-based learning modules to translate student awareness and interest into action (9th-12th grade students) *2018 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
View Participating Schools

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

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About our work in Education

United Way of Southwest Virginia is fighting for the education of the region by making sure children and youth can start school ready to succeed, become proficient readers at a young age, stay on track in middle school, earn their high school diploma, and pursue a higher education or career.