Kent Farmer is president and CEO of Rappahannock Electric Cooperative which provides electric service to over 160,000 connections in parts of 22 Virginia counties. A 2015 recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Leadership in Philanthropy, Farmer has been a key supporter of the Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative – a 10-year project that’s designed to raise educational attainment levels and improve workforce skills of those living in the state’s rural areas.
1. You are a staunch advocate of Virginia’s Community Colleges. Why the attraction?
To quote David Sam, president of Germanna Community College, “the mission of Virginia’s Community College program and the mission of Virginia’s Electric Cooperatives have many similarities.” In addition to being member/owners of electric cooperatives, Virginia’s Community Colleges are also business partners of the cooperatives, helping to enhance the lives of rural Virginians.
2. You were instrumental in getting Virginia’s electric cooperatives to rally around the Rural Virginia Horseshoe Initiative. Can you talk about your role in the process and what you hope to see accomplished?
My involvement with the “Horseshoe” project was actually the brain child of David Hudgins of Old Dominion Electric Cooperative, our wholesale power supplier in Richmond. David and I sit on the Board of the Virginia Chamber of Commerce, where Chancellor DuBois made a presentation about the project and David suggested that the cooperatives should be involved, since the areas covered by the project are the same areas served by the cooperatives. Later, I was asked by former Governor Baliles to see if the cooperatives would be willing to help support the project and the rest, as they say, is history. What I hope to see accomplished is the success of the project’s objectives.
3. How important, in your estimation, is the power-line worker training program that’s about to get underway at Southside Virginia Community College?
The power-line worker training program at Southside is very important and gives us a concrete example to show how effective the overall Horseshoe project can be. Interestingly, that project, led by John Lee of Mecklenburg Electric Cooperative and Jeff Edwards of Southside Electric Cooperative, was already in the works before we learned about the Horseshoe project and it was through our collaboration that we figured out how to combine these efforts.
4. From a historical perspective, helping folks who live in rural Virginia understand the importance of higher education and providing access to those services has been a challenge. What do you see as the principle obstacle that must be overcome and what, in your opinion, is the best solution?
I believe the people of rural Virginia understand the importance of higher education but believe it is beyond their financial ability or their ability to participate for a host of other reasons, like time to take classes, location of facilities, etc. I also believe that once they understand it is more than a gateway to a four year degree and that it includes certification programs that will help them get better jobs and better pay, they will figure out how to take more advantage.
5. As a distinguished recipient of the Chancellor’s Award for Leadership in Philanthropy, it’s obvious that you understand the importance of giving and we are very grateful for your support. What would you say to other potential donors?
My message to other potential donors is that by all of us working together, we can make a difference. It’s not just financial contributions that we need, we need your time and expertise to make sure the programs align with what employers see as their needs for a skilled workforce.
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