RICHMOND HILL, GA – What do Kayla Dragon, Elizabeth Lemmons, Hensley Rutan and Jason Padgett have in common? They all hail from Richmond Hill, they are all pursuing careers essential to helping their community thrive, and they all recently earned technical college scholarships to help them do just that.

These particular scholarships not only invest in the future of the community – they’re funded by the community, through the Coastal Electric Cooperative Foundation.

Over 14,000 Coastal Electric Cooperative members allow their electric bills to be rounded up to the next dollar through Operation Round Up. Those nickels and dimes are pooled together and invested back into the community to assist with the food, health, safety, education and shelter needs of citizens in South Bryan, Liberty, McIntosh and Long counties.

A 2020 graduate of Richmond Hill High School, Kayla Dragon is on the emergency medical services pathway at Athens Technical College. She hopes to complete the program to become a paramedic, “to help others in urgent situations.” Through Dragon’s part-time work as a restaurant server, she has gained teamwork skills, experience helping people and the ability to work in a fast-paced environment.

Elizabeth Lemmons began the aviation maintenance program at Savannah Technical College after graduating from Richmond Hill High School in 2020. Her goal is to work as an aviation mechanic, preferably in a specialized field.

“I value doing my work properly and consider safety a key element,” Lemmons said. “In the aviation maintenance program, I have gained experience in real-world skills such as punctuality and accountability.”

Hensley Rutan graduated from Richmond Hill High School in 2020 and is in the machinist program at Savannah Technical College. His goal is to become a machinist for an aerospace or automotive company, where he says he wants to work on the cutting edge of technology.

“I have always been a hands-on learner and creator,” Rutan said. “The career of a machinist hits the sweet spot of who I am. I am truly blessed to be part of the Richmond Hill community. Along with great family support, I have had great mentors in my life. I have so many people to thank – my family, my teachers, coaches, and scout leaders because they have all played a role in getting me where I am today.

“I never thought college was going to be an option until I found technical college. I feel it would be beneficial to students to bring vo-tech class back to high schools because universities are not for everyone.”

Jason Padgett, a 2021 graduate of Richmond Hill High School, plans to attend Savannah Technical College this fall to begin the Fire Science program to further his dream of working for the Richmond Hill Fire Department.

“Growing up, I was always taught to give back to my community, and what better way to do that than working for the Richmond Hill Fire Department,” Padgett said. “I’m passionate about firefighting and am eager to join the force, getting to give back to everyone that gave so much for me over the course of my life.”

For years, the Foundation awarded scholarships to students attending traditional colleges and technical schools alike, but beginning in 2019, the Coastal Electric Cooperative Foundation began offering additional scholarships specifically for local students attending tech school.

“The Foundation was looking to expand the scholarship program and opportunities for our local students,” said Coastal Electric CEO Chris Fettes. “By reducing some of the financial hardships of higher education, we’re hopeful that these investments will lead to promising careers in vocational and technical trades that will serve and support our members.”

Student loan debt is the highest it’s been in United States history. In 2021, 45 million borrowers collectively owe nearly $1.7 trillion in student loan debt, according to Forbes, making it the second highest consumer debt category – below mortgage debt but higher than debt for both credit cards and auto loans.

At the same time, there is a growing need for people entering technical and service careers. Supporting students pursuing technical careers can help fill those gaps in the local workforce.

“With these scholarships, it’s entirely possible to go to technical school for a year and a half or two years and graduate work ready, with zero student loan debt,” Fettes said. “A student can pursue a rewarding career in a critical field and make their start without heavy financial burdens.”

The Coastal Electric Cooperative Foundation technical college scholarships are renewable, and are available to students of all ages pursuing a diploma degree or certificate program from any of the 88 campuses of the Technical College System of Georgia (TCSG) or a recognized electric lineworker school in Georgia.

For more information on how to apply, eligibility requirements, scholarship amounts and deadlines, visit CoastalElectric.Coop/Scholarships.

“Our hope is that these students’ educational success will lead to future business success,” Fettes said, “thereby strengthening our growing economy in coastal Georgia.”

Coastal Electric Cooperative is a member-owned electric membership cooperative that provides electricity and related services to more than 21,000 homes and businesses in Bryan, Liberty, Long and McIntosh counties.

 The Coastal Electric Cooperative Foundation is a non-profit 501(c)3 organization created in 1993. It receives funds from the voluntary contributions of Coastal Electric Cooperative members through Operation Round Up, whereby monthly electric bills are rounded up to the next whole dollar. Those funds are handed over to the Foundation board of directors who review grant applications for a variety of local community needs related to food, health, shelter, safety and education