A culture changing celebration with a cut of a ribbon

Published 7:14 am Thursday, August 18, 2022

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By Tracy K. Hall

Left to right: Jody Redding, Mary Beth Brownlee, Toni Hannah, Rene Smith, Rusty Warner, Dr. John Watford, Alex Saratsiotis, Jelena Hoston, Walter Knighton, Dr. Don Gilman, Carolyn Hamilton, Mike Cheokas, Lee Kinnamon, Patty Bentley, Don Porter, Marnie Dutcher, Tammye Pettyjohn-Jones.

Thursday, July 28, 2022, was a day a long time in the making. Sumter County showed up to cut the ribbon on a project they have been working on hand in hand in hopes it will change the landscape of our home. The Ignite College and Career Academy (CCA) was born out of need to see our community grow in so many ways. A One Sumter brainchild, Ignite was identified as a dream which could change the way we experience life in Sumter County. The need identified was to grow Sumter County and a having a ready workforce. It is a large goal. The community knew dreaming about a CCA was indeed stretching us in a good way. A CCA would allow us to start readying a workforce early, in formative years. The CCA would reach students and identify both their strengths and weaknesses and capitalize upon what was good about each student who entered the academy. The CCA would give hands on training in real life skills, making the student workforce ready when they graduated from Sumter County Schools. The CCA partners with local workplaces for students to get a taste of what their talents could contribute. The CCA assesses a student’s desire and skill and suggests vocational pursuits which would feed them and give them a role to play within the community.

For instance, if a student might like to try their hand in the veterinary field, they would have more than a guess to build their future upon. Instead of a student guessing they would like to be a vet, they would get immersed in the lifestyle of a veterinarian and see for themselves if this is where they wanted to invest their life’s work. While they are investigating this, they also learn the soft skills which go along with being an effective member of the work force. They would learn how to market themselves through resume building, and effective communication skills. They would experience what is like to have the workplace depending upon them to show up on time. There is education on how to be reliable and being communicative when they are unable to be at work. The student would learn business acumen and how to be a part of an effective team to accomplish a goal. Meanwhile, they could rest easy in knowing their academic skills would allow them to be proficient in their chosen field. Also, just as important is the Ignite experience allows the student to determine what is not a field they would enjoy. YOU Science, the assessment the academy uses, applauds the skills the student has, but it also lets a student know what they likely would struggle in. Ignite has the power to keep an outstanding therapist from spending endless hours and dollars into becoming an unsatisfied engineer.

Meanwhile, as our economic developers are selling our community to potential industry, they are able to market Ignite as a resource for them. They are able to bestow confidence, letting industry know we are ready for them to become part of our community, because we have a workforce they can choose from. And as industry comes to Sumter County, our tax base grows, allowing our residents to enjoy the fruits of better physical and human infrastructure. Offerings will open, and our potential becomes larger and larger.

Ignite isn’t where this all began. The Sumter County community is where this began. A group of dreamers gathered. A goal was established, and an invitation was extended to all of us. Over months and months our citizens showed up to make this happen. Some showed up with their dollars, others showed up with their time and talents. There was a seat at the table for everyone, and many took their seats. Thursday was a celebration of those people. Thursday was a celebration of Sumter County. Thursday was a dream coming to fruition and a dream being born all at the same time. Ignite still welcomes Sumter County to the table. She needs our neighbors to play a role in bestowing the experience upon our students. The establishment of Ignite College and Career academy has been called by many the most unifying event in their knowledge of Sumter County history. Make no mistake, it was powerfully unifying as our neighbors of all races, genders, socio-economic classes, occupations, talents, ages and strengths joined to make a dream come true. They changed the landscape of our community for the better. The rewards of which we will see for ages.

Help celebrate our CCA. Know in doing so, you are celebrating our home. Join hand in hand with your community as we continue to put hope into what Ignite can do for us. Contribute yourself. It is with each individual yes that a community of “Yes!” is born. On Thursday, with Don Gilman, Ignite’s CEO hosting, many faces stood up to once again say “Yes!” While there was a room full of people who had given their yes to the efforts, there were some who represented many affirmations of faith. Don Gilman led the charge, then one by one, the representatives of many facets of our home stood to say thank you for saying yes. Those people include, Toni Hannah, Rene Smith, Rusty Warner, John Watford, Alex Saratsiotis, representative of Sanford Bishop’s office, representative from Brain Kemp’s office, Freddie Powell Sims, Patty Bentley, Mike Cheokas, Lee Kinnamon, Carolyn Hamilton and Walter Knighton.

There was a celebration on Thursday. The celebration is no where near finished. Every day a key is turned to open Ignite’s doors, there is a joy. Every day there is a great hope born for a student there is glory. Every day another workplace welcomes an Ignite student, there is deep gratitude. And every day there is a Sumter County resident who wakes up with a dream, with a focus, with a fearlessness to move us ever closer to greatness beyond our current circumstances, there is nothing short of jubilation. Come join the jubilee, your place at the table is not only reserved, it can only be filled by you.