Turning heartache and recovery into a positive life-changing experience

  •   2 min read
Student Success

Philip Stiltner, a native of Buchanan County, Va., began working in the coal mines at 18. A lot of hard work, followed by multiple layoffs, led him to make a change and move to Manassas to work as a electrical groundsman. Stiltner, however, deeply missed his home in Southwest Virginia.  

Life threw a curveball when Stiltner was in a car accident that killed two passengers and left him in the hospital for a prolonged recovery. Afterwards, Stiltner briefly worked repossessing cars but soon moved back to working in the mines where layoffs started all over again.

Stiltner’s luck changed when Richard Underwood, who previously worked in the mines but now teaches welding at Southwest Virginia Community College, put him in touch with a program would that help offset his tuition costs. Stiltner enrolled at the college and begin welding and heavy equipment operation classes in the fall of 2020.

“I highly recommend Southwest Virginia Community College,” said Stiltner. “I enjoyed it. All of the instructors were great. Everyone I met there was great. Do it – especially if it gets you out of the coal mines.”

Stiltner’s experience at SWCC was made possible in large part by the Re-Employing Virginians grant (which helps Virginians who lost their job due to COVID-19) and the Road to Success in Virginia grant (which was created to serve TANF customers and low-income families in Virginia). Not only were his classes paid for, but he received a $1,200 month stipend to help with his truck payment, rent and vehicle insurance. Without it he would not have been able to go back to school.

After a very positive experience, Stiltner graduated from the heavy equipment class and received several credentials: NCCER Core, NCCER Heavy Equipment Operations, First Aid/CPR/AED, OSHA 10, Intermediate Work Zone Safety. He was immediately hired as a mechanic for Gardner Inc, an excavating contractor in Buchanan County, where he works today.

To learn more about FastForward and to find out what financial assistance programs you may be eligible for, contact your local career coach by using our Contact Us page.