ABINGDON, Va. — Jules Lemmon spent her summer doing more than flipping burgers or pushing a broom.

The senior at John S. Battle High School in Washington County spent a recent internship with Universal Fibers Systems in Bristol, Virginia. She worked on a simulated camp hosted by Virginia Tech and learned about renewable energy.

Lemmon first noticed the internship at a school counselor’s office and decided to pursue the opportunity, saying she figured being an intern would be more beneficial than working in a fast-food restaurant.

“Overall, it was an amazing experience,” Lemmon told a group of about 100 gathered in Abingdon last Wednesday for the United Way of Southwest Virginia’s Operation Tomorrow’s Workforce Leaders’ Breakfast.

Lemmon was one of the United Way’s 36 recent Ignite interns, participating in a variety of businesses and organizations, including the LENOWISCO Planning District, Rooftop of Virginia Community Action Program and Mitsubishi Advanced Chemical.

Ignite seeks to give students real-life work experience through internships while supplying employers with a talent pipeline of skilled workers in Southwest Virginia.

Renee Anderson, Lemmon’s mentor at Universal Fibers, said Lemmon “brought a fresh mindset to the table. And that was beneficial for Universal Fibers. That’s important for all businesses.”

As an intern, Lemmon worked on projects — she didn’t just complete tasks, Anderson said.

“It was beneficial to us because it allows us to understand what it is that this next generation’s talent is going to be and what they’re looking for,” Anderson said.

The United Way staff supports Ignite by helping recruit and train students “before they were even employed,” said Travis Staton, president and CEO of the United Way of Southwest Virginia.

“Now, think about that,” Staton said. “Ignite right now is serving 21 localities, 19 school systems and reaching over 30,000 youth.”

Yet, he said, plans call for expanding the program from 36 interns to 80 for next summer.

“I need more internship sites. I need more employers to participate,” Staton said. “I need more employers to invest and support these efforts.”

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jtennis@bristolnews.com | 276-791-0709 | @BHC_Tennis

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