Community center helps retrain workers

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Print this page by Joan Tupponce

Can a privately funded work-force center turn a local economy around? Maybe not all the way, but it can provide a meaningful push.
Since its establishment in 2000, the Estes Community Center in Chase City has helped put more than 700 people back to work, thanks to a partnership with Southside Virginia Community College.

The two organizations, for example, have worked together on certified nurse’s aide and licensed practical nursing programs, which have produced more than 600 graduates.  The organizations teamed up with local hospitals, health-care centers and nursing homes to provide the students with internships and job opportunities.

In addition to its health-care courses, the center offers free GED certification classes as well as a variety of other courses in information technology, cosmetology, English, math and the sciences.  Enollment was 624 students last year.

The center serves Mecklenburg County, where only 12 percent of residents age 25 and older hold a four-year college degree and average incomes are 40 percent below the state average. The county’s unemployment rate in June was 11.7 percent.

“It was obvious to me that Southern Virginia has an educational disparity with the rest of the state,” says Charles Lee, the retired president of Mississippi State University who serves as chairman of the Estes Center Endowment Campaign. “The Estes Center can’t solve all the problems but it is a start toward making a difference.”

The money raised by the endowment fund will cover the maintenance and upkeep of the center’s building, grounds and equipment. In July, Estes Express, a Richmond-based trucking company, contributed $100,000 to the fund, bumping contributions to more than half of the fund’s $750,000 goal.

“That makes us eligible to receive matching funds from other sources,” Lee says.
The center is located in the former headquarters building of Estes Express, which was founded in 1931 by W.W. Estes, a Chase City resident. The Estes family has been involved in the center since its start.

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