Benchmark Community Bank President/CEO Jay Stafford (right) and Southside Virginia Community College President Dr. Quentin R. Johnson pause from watching students at the SVCC Power Line Worker Program perfect skills needed to keep Southside Virginia online and at work.

Winter was dominated in February by ice storms that left more than 75,000 Southside Virginians without electricity, some for as much 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 catastrophic 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 5-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 donation for the school. “These funds will make the difference between us putting a conscientious professional in the field,” Dr. Johnson said, “and not having enough trained professionals when the next storm happens.”

According to 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 commence in June 2021.

Southside Virginia Community College opened in 1970 as part of the statewide system of community colleges established by the Virginia General Assembly. It primarily serves the residents of the city of Emporia and the counties of Brunswick, Buckingham, Charlotte, Cumberland, Greensville, Halifax (partial), Lunenburg, Mecklenburg, Nottoway and Prince Edward through online and in-person classes presented at one of several venues located from South Boston to Alberta.

To learn more about SVCC, visit