GILES COUNTY (WSLS 10) - High school seniors in Giles County now have the opportunity to go to community college for free.
Any senior at Narrows or Giles High School, as well as any home-schooled student in the county who graduates with at least a 2.5 GPA will earn free tuition at New River Valley Community College.
This year 73 seniors county-wide are enrolled.
The program is made possible by donors, the county and a unique fundraiser, called "ACCE" or Access to Community College Education.
For kids willing to make good grades and maybe even get a little dirty, it's the best way to earn a free ride to college.
"It gives us this opportunity when otherwise we would not be able to," said ACCE participant Thomas Fields, a graduate of Giles High School.
The program, now in it's second year has provided roughly 35 percent of Giles County High School seniors with free college tuition. Those same students already in the program have an average college GPA of 3.0, even though the minimum requirement is a 2.2.
Andrew Bragg, a graduate of Narrows High School, now a freshman at New River Valley Community College was one of those students.
"It's not the best times in America in this point. Us getting free community college is a big asset to all of us," Bragg said.
He and Fields, along with all program participants, are not only required to pass their college courses, but commit themselves to volunteering in the community after they graduate.
Fields said the program made a huge difference for him and his family.
"Hard times fell on the family," Fields said. "We are doing alright, but this program helped us tremendously."
This year more than $180,000 worth of tuition for 73 kids will be paid in full thanks to donors and the county. The County pays roughly $75,000 to the program. The remaining money is donated by sponsors and earned through fundraising.
The biggest fundraiser is the Muddy ACCE Race. Giles County administrator Chris McKlarney took WSLS 10 through the 5k course with 20 obstacles.
The hand-built, challenging course is a marvel in itself.
Giles County Tourism and Marketing Director Cora Gnegy said the course is the only one of it's kind in the region.
"We are Virginia's mountain playground so why not make a play pit, sand pit, mud pit to enjoy while people come and visit too," said Gnegy.
The course is impressive to say the least and will take more than 100 volunteers to complete.
Most of those volunteers are students already in the program earning community service hours they are required to get.
"Even for students who want to go on to four-year school, they can get two years of school out of the way. They can come out with no debt," McKlarney said.
Not only is it a benefit to students and families, but the entire community.
"It's a great opportunity for our kids. It's also an opportunity for the county to improve our workforce," McKlarney said.
McKlarney says building local workforce is a focus not only in Giles, but in the entire New River Valley.
"For us to be able to do this for our kids, and for our community as small as Giles. This is awesome. It's a testament to the people here," McKlarney said.
To donate to the program or to sign up for the race visit http://muddyaccerace.com/.
The Muddy ACCE Race is a 5K, 20 obstacle mud course to be held on Saturday, October 1 in Glyn Lynn Park. The Muddy ACCE Race is for ages 13 and up. Registration is $50.