SLTC Students Practice a Mindset of Service by Volunteering in Dade
By LYDIA BERGLAR
Southeastern Lineman Training Center places an emphasis on excellence when training students to be lineworkers, but the school also places an emphasis on service. The school seeks out volunteer opportunities in Dade County so its students can build a mindset of service.
Chandler Gilliam joined the SLTC team this past year to plan extracurricular activities for students that provide relaxation and connection with other students, but another facet of his role is coordinating service opportunities.
He explained, “Being a lineman is inherently a pretty selfless job. Our students are going to be missing holidays and birthdays when a storm calls. That’s the nature of this industry they’ve signed up for, so SLTC looks for opportunities that subliminally teach our students that this career is one they’re not always going to be praised for and it will require sacrifices.”
He continued, “Our students work incredibly hard Monday through Thursday, so we want to facilitate opportunities to get them away from the stress of school. That’s my job – to filter through opportunities and get our students places.”
While volunteering is not required for STLC students, the school is building a culture of service. Gilliam said, “Our hope is that everyone who comes through SLTC will buy into that. We want to make better men and women to go out and serve communities.”
Even though STLC students’ time in Dade County is short – lasting eight weeks for the Communications Program and 15 weeks for the Electrical Program – the school recognizes the impact that students can have on the local community. Gilliam reported, “Our Electrical Program has 350 to 400 students each class. It could be easy for us to say, ‘We have new people here every 15 weeks and they’re probably never going to come back to Dade County,’ but one thing our owners are passionate about is that we’re leaving a footprint on this place.”
While students come and go, the school and its employees remain firmly planted in Dade County. Gilliam said, “We’ve been here for over 20 years and we hope to be here forever. We want to lean into that through service. If we can make an impact on Dade County, whether that’s financially or voluntarily, that’s an easy step for us to take.”
One project STLC continues to be involved with is the non-profit Neverthirst. Through their event Woodwalkers for Water, SLTC raises funds to help Neverthirst bring clean water to rural areas of Africa and Asia. Gilliam explained, “We do Woodwalkers for Water every class. At the most recent event, we raised almost $30,000 for Neverthirst.” Similar to races that raise funds, Woodwalkers for Water is a “climb-a-thon,” with linemen students climbing poles in response to donations.
Another way SLTC has routinely served is by loading and unloading boxes with the Tri-State Food Pantry. Gilliam explained, “On the first Friday of every month on Sand Mountain, we send students or staff to help at the food pantry. We have a great relationship with them. We can’t always send students due to the cyclical nature of school, but when we can, hopefully our help goes a long way for the food pantry and the people receiving the food.”
SLTC also helped with the clean-up and planting efforts along Town Creek Trail at the end of January. Gilliam said, “Our owners have friends who led the creek clean up, so our students helped with that. Hopefully that makes an impact for years to come.”
Gilliam also reports that the school has a great relationship with the Dade County Sheriff’s Office. “In the past, the sheriff’s office has reached out when they have events on the square and asked us to be a part in whatever capacity we can.”
Gilliam and SLTC are looking for new service opportunities. Gilliam said, “Right now, it’s a lot of trial and error to see what works and what can be routine opportunities. If we’re going to send our students to do something, I try to learn as much about it as I can and experience it beforehand. We’re on board with trying most things, especially if it supports the community and the people that live here.”
Through both service opportunities and fun activities, SLTC students learn from and build connections with each other. Gilliam notes, “We have 18-year-olds coming out of high school and 35-year-old military veterans coming in. We get some people who’ve been doing something for 20 years and want a change of pace. These events are opportunities for students to meet others from different races, socioeconomic backgrounds, and ages.”
He continued, “An 18-year-old and a 40-year-old can be great friends by the end of school. The 18-year-olds are around this wealth of knowledge. A lot of our veterans seem to understand sacrificial service and they are great leaders, sometimes the quiet, lead-from-behind kind of leaders. Also, some of our older students seem to lead naturally.”
One tradition that occurs with every class is a competitive, energetic field day. Gilliam said, “Our students and instructors love it. A lot of these men and women are very competitive, and they make it fun.”
Gilliam noted, “We’re talking to the Chattanooga Lookouts about a ticket partnership. We’re talking about doing a home run derby, and a kickball or softball league. We do March Madness brackets with prizes. We did a pancake breakfast and a welcome bonfire this last class. These are easy ways to get our students out of their houses when they’re not in school.”
If you are aware of a volunteer opportunity in Dade County that may interest STLC, contact Chandler Gilliam at email@example.com.