GILES COUNTY, Va. – As Giles County High School seniors head back for their last first day of high school Monday, they are resting a little easier.
Although college may already be on their minds, how to pay for it isn't. Thanks to the Access to Community College Education Student program (ACCE), they have the opportunity to go to college for free.
New River Community College student Lindsey Stables of Narrows always knew she wanted to go to college, but like so many others, she wasn't sure how to pay for it.
Now, thanks to good grades and a community behind her, she's going for free.
"It's been a life-changing experience," Stables said.
She is one of 250 Giles County high school graduates whose tuition at New River has been paid for by the ACCE program. Seniors at Giles, Narrows and those who are homeschooled with a 2.5 GPA qualify for the program.
In exchange for good grades and volunteer work at the programs' sole fundraiser, the Muddy ACCE race, Stables will earn her associates this year for free. She then plans to go to Virginia Tech to major in Biology.
"I want to go as far as I can in my education and I knew without the ACCE program I wouldn't be able to do that. It's just too many student loans and I'm not sure I could have paid them off," Stables said.
New this year, Giles County tourism and marketing director Cora Gnegy said similar programs have now been adopted in every New River Valley county, and they've been contacted by leaders in Amherst and Russel counties.
"I think it's proof that if there is a need or a gap or an issue, rallying around a good idea and getting all stakeholders on board really can make a difference," Gnegy said. "People are excited about this program. They are excited what the young people can do when given a challenge and opportunity, and they are raising and rising to that."
It's all funded by corporate sponsors and the muddy ACCE race, which is a 5K mud run with over 50 obstacles, including some American Ninja Warrior-style feats. It's become a big tourism draw for the county since it began.
There is still time to register. The race is Sept. 21. Click here for more information.