The former Kmart building in Abingdon will be transformed into a workforce training hub. Courtesy of United Way of Southwest Virginia.

Here’s a roundup of news briefs from around Southwest and Southside. Send yours for possible inclusion to

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Regional workforce development hub to open in Abingdon

A former Kmart building in Abingdon will be transformed into what local leaders say will be a hub for a region-wide effort to expand workforce initiatives by providing training and child care resources.

The 87,000-square-foot building will house STEM labs for teacher training, an early childhood care and education center, workforce development and training programs, and a shared services alliance to support existing child care providers in the region, according to a news release announcing the project.

The Abingdon center will serve as the hub in a planned hub-and-spoke model that will grow to include four smaller facilities across Southwest Virginia, organizers said.

The project is a collaboration among United Way of Southwest Virginia, Food City and the town of Abingdon. United Way purchased the property through a partnership with the grocery chain.

“This is a critical moment for United Way of Southwest Virginia and the communities we serve,” Travis Staton, CEO and president of the nonprofit, said in the release. “It would not be possible without the generosity and support of Food City, who has partnered with us on the purchase of the property.”

The Abingdon announcement is the latest in a series of initiatives by United Way and others to bolster the region’s economy by addressing the availability of both workforce training and the social supports — particularly child care — that workers need to be successful.

“Lack of access to early childhood care and education continues to sideline families from the workforce,” Brendan McSheehy, United Way’s board chair and a vice president at Universal Fiber Systems, said in the release. “When families aren’t working, and businesses aren’t running at full capacity, our region is left behind.”

The hub-and-spoke model is designed to bring together multiple initiatives and grants to support the existing workforce while creating a career pipeline for students, organizers said.

United Way of Southwest of Virginia will also launch a fundraising campaign for the project.

To learn more about the project and sign up for updates, visit

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Wytheville Community College receives $1.3 million gift, largest one-time donation in school’s history

Wytheville Community College has received a gift of $1.3 million for scholarships and capital projects.

The gift, from the estate of Janie Hale Gentry, is the largest one-time donation in the school’s 60-year history, the school said in a news release.

Gentry, a Grayson County native, was a teacher, school social worker, guidance counselor and principal, according to the release. She worked in throughout the United States and in the Dominican Republic, where she served as principal of the American School. She and her husband, Penick, were strong supporters of education.

“Mrs. Gentry was known during her life for generosity and service to others,” Thomas Jackson Jr., the attorney who managed Gentry’s estate, said in the release. “In her death, that legacy continues. She was a remarkable woman, dedicated to making her community a better place in which to live.”

“We are most grateful to Mrs. Gentry for her extraordinary investment in Wytheville Community College and the students and communities that we serve,” said Dean Sprinkle, president of the college. “Her generosity will benefit WCC students for generations to come.”

The Penick and Janie Hale Gentry Memorial Scholarship Endowment will provide financial assistance to WCC students, with first preference to students from Grayson County. Funds also will be used to help renovate existing spaces or build, lease or purchase new types of learning spaces, Sprinkle said. 

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3 Danville businesses win grants in pitch competition

Danville’s River District Association has awarded three businesses a total of $52,000 in RDA IGNITE Pitch Grants to open or expand their businesses in the city’s River District.

One existing business, River District Auto Spa, owned by Von Wellington, received $14,000 plus a $1,000 grant from Movement Bank.

Two startups also received awards: 2 Earthy Mamas, owned by Rae Barnes, received $10,000 plus a $1,000 grant from Movement Bank, and the Happy Little Fox Toy Shop, owned by Amy Pruitt, received $28,000.

The Dream Launch Program and IGNITE Pitch Competition are part of a multiphase entrepreneurship program. The first phase, a bootcamp, consists of six classes for business owners. During the second phase, participants can pitch for grant funding.

Dream Launch, now finishing the fifth year of the program, saw registration of 179 for the bootcamp; 113 participants attended at least one class, 76 completed all six classes, and five business plans were pitched to judges in April.