In Southwest Virginia the threat of persistent poverty has cast a long shadow. Over the course of decades, this lingering issue has affected 6% of the state's population or more than 492k Virginia residents, leaving entire counties trapped in a cycle of deprivation. Breaking this cycle requires more than just good intentions. Persistent poverty is a complex issue that includes educational outcomes, transition to employment, access to healthcare and opportunities for financial stability. Most of the affected counties are part of the Virginia’s southwest region and are served by the United Way of Southwest Virginia (UWSWVA), that is meeting the challenge through innovative interventions.
The Ignite Internship program, fueled by UWSWVA’s Youth Success department, is a beacon of hope to the region. Recognizing that education and employment were the keys to breaking the cycle of poverty, UWSWVA devised a multifaceted intervention. Collaborating with 79 companies across 19 counties in 2022, they created internships that connected schools and students to employers and employees.
Between 2019 and 2022, these internships translated into 16,780 hours of work experience for 156 students, involving an investment of $166,178 by employers. Notably, 46% of these internships were the students' first jobs, setting them on the path to career success.
The Ignite internship program is more than a summer job; it is a gateway to possibilities. The community impact has been equally transformative. By fostering a talent pipeline that prepares the next generation for the jobs of tomorrow, the Ignite program is building a robust competitive economy, revitalizing areas that have struggled with persistent poverty.
UWSWVA’s intervention is more than a fleeting initiative. It is part of a broader commitment to health, education, and financial stability. By connecting the worlds of learning and work, they are not only breaking the cycle of poverty but shaping a future where everyone, everywhere, has the opportunity to thrive.