BIG STONE GAP, Va. - The re-dedication of a building constructed in 1984 to serve the educational needs of the mining community at Mountain Empire Community college gave the Virginia Tobacco Commission a chance to see where their money goes.
As we toured the facility with members of the commission, we saw first-hand the investment being made in education and the future of the region with tobacco money.
A tour through Dalton-Cantrell Hall on the campus of Mountain Empire Community College is visual evidence of the many changes the building and its dedication to technology has changed over the years.
Members of the Virginia Tobacco Commission were escorted through the facility by members of the college to let them know that grants and scholarships given were well used. "These pieces of equipment would be impossible for us to buy using funds from the college. Each of these units, as they sit, was about $10,000 apiece," welding instructor Paul Gilley said as he gestured towards two new welders.
It's much more than just the equipment and the technology -- it's the students that receive scholarship funds that maybe the commission's best investment. "Scholarships like the tobacco funds are very important. Pell grants cover only so much. A lot of people don't qualify for all the Pell grant money, especially if they're trying to go on more than the two semesters. Maybe two, three, four or five semesters, they come up short," welding instructor Tim Austin said.
"The Tobacco Commission money that supports the AIM scholarships program and also buys equipment and materials here, those are hands-on examples of how that money is going directly to students and families," college president Scott Hamilton added.
And that's what the commission set out to do when they began the program in 1999.
"That's something that I hope that we can look back on and be one of the legacies of the Tobacco Commission that we did provide a lot of opportunities for a lot of citizens here in Southwest Virginia," Delegate Terry Kilgore, chairman of the commission said.