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United Way of Southwest Virginia fights for the health, education and financial stability of every person in Southwest Virginia because they are the building blocks for a good quality of life.

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GO Virginia Region 1 presents $269,000 check to United Way of Southwest Virginia

July 12, 2022

GO Virginia Region 1 presents $269,000 check to United Way of Southwest Virginia

Efforts to bring sidelined workers back into Southwest Virginia’s manufacturing workforce got a boost today, as United Way of Southwest Virginia (UWSWVA) received a check for $269,406 from the GO Virginia Region 1 Council to support a new Employer-Sponsored Child Care Benefits program.

While GO Virginia funding will not go directly toward paying for childcare costs, it will help to launch, build and establish a program in which employers will receive a match from United Way of Southwest Virginia when they offer assistance in meeting their employees’ childcare costs. Three private foundations have committed $200,000 each to help UWSWVA match the employers’ commitment over the next two years.

“The private-public partnership will assist manufacturers filling open positions and retaining workers in current positions by offering employees a competitive child care fringe benefit which will eliminate a major barrier to employment to many parents,” said Beth Rhinehart, chair of the council.

“This is a project that United Way of Southwest Virginia has developed at the request of our employers,” said Mary Anne Holbrook, vice president of Development and Outreach for UWSWVA. “Just like you offer employees health insurance, this is going to be a benefit that employers offer to employees to have a competitive edge in the hiring and retention process.”

Four employers, Lawrence Brothers in Bluefield, Paul’s Fans in Grundy, Universal Fibers in Bristol, and an as-yet unnamed employer in Smyth County will pilot the program this year. Representatives from each of the three announced companies were on hand to speak to the GO Virginia Region 1 Council at the check presentation July 12 at the UVA Wise Oxbow Center in St. Paul.

Melanie Protti-Lawrence of Lawrence Brothers told the council childcare was the No. 1 barrier to workforce development and retention efforts in Bluefield, especially among women. “We try to work with mothers who want to come back into the workforce, whether that means offering a hybrid schedule or letting them work part-time.” Protti-Lawrence also told the council that men are also affected by the child care shortage, especially those who need to meet certain conditions to maintain custody of a child, and that having a choice between caring for a child or holding a job, “is a decision we should never force someone to make.”

GO Virginia will fund assessments in each of Region 1's cities and counties, and will fund efforts to monitor data on performance and effectiveness. The employers will track progress and outcomes of employee retention and satisfaction for participating. GO Virginia will also help fund a United Way of Southwest Virginia shared services effort to help cut child care centers’ costs.

“This project will allow employees who left the workforce due to the pandemic to return to – or join – the workforce,” Rhinehart said.

That’s a big part of what drove Universal Fibers to take part in the pilot program, said Rick Nunley, director of Human Resources. “When we started to bring our workforce back in from the pandemic, we noticed these 10-, 12- and 20-year associates who were no longer there. So it was refreshing when United Way started talking about this initiative that we now feel blessed and privileged and very excited to be part of.”

Sarah Gillespie of the Smyth County Chamber of Commerce mentioned to the council the benefits the program could have for existing Southwest Virginia child care centers. “We already have a daycare center that has the potential to expand from 12 to 40, and possibly 70 slots with this. That’s huge. People are already excited about it and I think this is just the tip of the iceberg.”

“This will be a monumental pivot point for my region,” said Todd Elswick, president of Paul’s Fan Company. “It will be a pivot point for my people and my community.”

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