In an effort to ensure Nelson County students have multiple post-graduation options, a number of building trades organizations donated funds to the building trades program at Nelson County High School.

Ben Butler, president of the Nelson County Home Builders Association, said Paul Connell, the high school building trades teacher, has been coming to their meetings and together, they have been working on establishing a relationship with the school. At the association’s meeting in September, it voted to donate $1,500 to Connell’s class.

“Paul came and talked about needs of the program. They have to come up with funding on their own to buy what they need for the program and every year it’s a bit of a struggle,” Butler said.

Connell said to ensure the wood tech class at the high school happens — the beginner class that feeds into the building trades classes — he usually has to pull money from the building trades classes. The money comes from the Building Trades Consumable fund from the county, which is only allocated for the Building Trades Program. Currently, there is no funding for the year-long wood tech class, Connell said, so necessary materials are paid for out of the Building Trades fund.

The wood tech class is where the students learn the basics, like how to use power and hand tools. Then, when they move to the building trades classes, they can focus on hands-on projects.

The Nelson County Home Builders Association agreed to donate $1,500 and MWP Blue Ridge Building Supply matched the donation, bringing the total to $3,000.

“Others donated as well and we have now surpassed the needs of the school,” Butler said.

Other donors include Capler Homes, Techtonics II, Pro Tech Builder, Advanced Concrete Foundations, Lost Industries, TK Painting, and Berry Hill Builders. To date, $5,350 has been donated to Connell’s high school building trades program. Butler said it’s critical to support building trades and other career and technical education classes.

“It gives them the opportunity to learn skills that they need so they can stay in Nelson after high school and get good jobs,” Butler said.

Connell said he is very appreciative of the money because it ensures students in wood tech have everything they need for a smooth transition to building trades the following year. Connell said he usually has 40 kids in the class and at least half decide to take building trades the following year.

“The class is necessary because 20 of those kids go into Building Trades I. They need to learn the basics so when they get here, I can concentrate on building,” Connell said.

Thanks to the donations this year, Connell doesn’t have to stress about funding.

“We are just so appreciative of the Nelson County Home Builders Association for this,” Connell said

Jesse Rutherford, a member of the home builders association, echoed the importance of trades classes and career and technical education in a separate phone interview.

“I think supporting [career and technical education] is very critical, especially with today’s lack of workforce. As opposed to getting $100,000 in debt from college loans, this is a great start to life,” Rutherford said.

Right now, high school students in Connell’s building trades classes are working on constructing a new electronic sign along U.S. 29 in front of the high school and middle school complex. This project gives them hands-on experience they can take into the working world.

“We are lacking in trades people right now. These kids learning this can go right out of high school and make $14, $15, even $16 an hour rather than going to college and worry about paying that bill back,” Connell said.

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Erin Conway covers Nelson County for The News & Advance. Reach her at (434) 385-5524.

Erin Conway covers Nelson County. Reach her at (434) 385-5524 or

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