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SVCC power line worker program receives boost from Benchmark

Winter 2021 was dominated in February by ice storms that left more than 75,000 Southside Virginians without electricity, some for as long as two weeks.

Regional electrical providers Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and Southside Electric Cooperative called in mutual aid from neighboring states to assist in repairing snapped power poles, restringing downed lines and removing trees weighed down by the ice.

Community organizations tapped resources to provide food, emergency shelter and warming/charging stations to help their neighbors navigate the challenges brought on by the extended power outages. Families huddled in community centers, fire stations and other public buildings as they awaited news that the lights were back on at home.

The plight of so many southside Virginians highlighted the need for more professional power line workers to identify and address power-related infrastructure. Benchmark Community Bank President/CEO Jay Stafford became aware of the five-year-old Power Line Worker Program located at Pickett Park in nearby Blackstone. He contacted Southside Virginia Community College to determine how the bank could be of support providing scholarships for students to the program.

“As soon as the ice storm was over, the weather started warming up, and we realized hurricane season would be cranking up before long,” Stafford said. “We need trained power line workers to recognize potential issues jeopardizing the integrity of our power line systems and being able to address them before we have another major storm.”

“We wanted to support SVCC to help their students have better access to the power line worker program,” he continued. “Together we can encourage trained professionals to stay in their hometowns and contribute to our Southside region. We are happy that we are in a position to help.”

SVCC President Dr. Quentin R. Johnson met with Stafford at the Pickett Park school on March 23 to receive a $2,500 donation for the school.

“These funds will make the difference between us putting a conscientious professional in the field and not having enough trained professionals when the next storm happens,” Johnson said.

According to Dr. Johnson, students from SVCC’s program will become employed with electrical providers around the country, primarily in Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia. The next class is scheduled to begin in June 2021.