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  • Charlie Plant

Travels with Charlie: Home away from home, South Carolina’s Pee Dee region

This is the Breeden Inn, a Bed and Breakfast I stay at in Bennettsville SC when I’m there supporting Harbor Freight Fellows in the region. Bennettsville was the heart of what was once the wealthiest agriculture county in America, when cotton was king. Land there sold by the pound, not the acre. Now it is the poorest county in the country. How on earth did I come to be in South Carolina!!??? I live on the coast of the Pacific Ocean north of San Francisco. For the first couple years, all our Fellows were in California, where I could get out personally and talk with them, their teachers, principals, county education offices etc. Then I got a call, from yes, South Carolina, Marlboro High School in Bennettsville.

The school counselor, Connie Anderson was on the phone.

“We heard about your program [?????] and want to know more. We are in a very rural, economically distressed area of the state and our students don’t have a lot of opportunity. Can we talk?”

I wasn’t sure that without my physical on-site contact that we could swing it. But it was worth a try. Leah Zimmerman, the school’s community college liaison took over on their end. We arranged for a zoom interview of their candidates, Dylan Cummings and Keeshaad Staggers. Not only did the boys show up on screen for the interview, their parents were there, the school counselor, Leah Zimmerman, the CTE teacher for welding, the school principal, and the district superintendent!!! This was a community committed to their youth. Dylan and Keeshaad were accepted, and Fellowed with a local welder, and had a great experience. Both are working in the trade now. Here they are at work and an installed piece they worked on.

This is Dylan, Keeshaad, their Mentor, Advisor and school staff at the award ceremony their school district organized to recognize their successful completion of their Fellowships.

Leah put me in touch with Crishell Bass, the region’s workforce coordinator for the SC Dept. of Commerce. Crishell got into action, recruiting districts and schools in the Pee Dee region of the state - like Bennettsville, rural, low income, low opportunity. Before I could blink, she had students, principals, teachers, local industry and community organizations behind the program and youth out working alongside trades Mentors. In particular, a special aeronautics fabrication program for girls was started with the support of the Ronald McNair Committee in Lake City (the first African American astronaut, Lake City native) who died in the Challenger Space Shuttle tragedy of 1986. But students of the region were involved in all areas of the trades. The Lake City High School principal, Leon Burgess commissioned a documentary of the program’s impact in his community.

Here’s the video, in which you’ll meet Fellows, community members and the amazing Crishell Bass:

Crishell has expanded us into the Charleston metropolitan area, with plans to expand statewide next year. I look forward to spending more time at my home away from home .


Charlie Plant Coordinator, Harbor Freight Fellows Program

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