Catawba Valley Furniture Academy celebrates SOFA graduates

The Catawba Valley Furniture Academy recently celebrated the graduates of its summer Students of Furniture Apprenticeship (SOFA) program.



Among those students recognized during the graduation ceremony included Kalaya Vang, Kaitlyn Killian and Evan Lambert.

Attending the graduation were Robin Ross, CVCC Vice President for Talent Development/K64; Gary Muller, Executive Dean Economic Development and Corporate Education; Randy Burns, Senior Executive Director Corporate & Economic Development; Emily McNeely, Bassett Furniture HR Director; Kelly Benfield, Bassett Furniture Product Development; Windy Wilcox, Century Furniture Sewing Supervisor & CVFA Instructor; Caren Howard, Century Furniture HR Manager; Jared Nava-Salgado, Century Furniture HR Assistant manager; Jason Connell, HBF/HNI Lean Development Manager & CVFA Instructor; Catherine Schiffell, CVFA Instructor; and Cindy Fulbright, Director of CVFA & Alexander Furniture Academies.

“This was the first year that Bassett participated in the SOFA program, and we look forward to being a part of this partnership for years to come,” said Emily McNeely, Bassett Furniture HR Director. “There is such value in this program as it opens the door for a fulfilling career for many young students in both high school as well as graduating seniors. During the summer apprenticeship, the students were able to get a glimpse of the craftsmanship that goes into making a piece of furniture. Whether they choose to continue in the furniture industry or they choose a different path, they have learned a valuable skill set they can always return to.” 

The SOFA program provides high school students ages 16-18 with the knowledge and skills needed to develop an exciting new career in furniture with the goal of being able to explore a career as a skilled craftsman in several disciplines — sewing, upholstery, manual cutting, spring-up and frame building.

“Century Furniture is honored to work with CVCC and the SOFA program,” said Caren Howard, Century Furniture HR Manager. “It is exciting to know that high school students are interested in the future of furniture manufacturing and want to be a part of it. Hopefully, through the eight-week program, the students can be exposed to a career as a skilled furniture craftsman, such as cutters, sewers, spring-up operators, upholsterers and technicians. It is a wonderful opportunity for us to show them that they can earn great pay in a clean and safe work environment. We look forward to enrolling more students in the program next year.”

Through the SOFA program, students earn money, high school credit, college certificates and a state certificate with ApprenticeshipNC and explore different careers in the furniture industry.

“We feel fortunate to have been a part of the development and implementation of the SOFA program,” said Marta Truitt with CR Laine. “Our group wanted to reach young people and their parents and let them know the opportunities that are available in furniture. This program gives students a chance to dip their toe into the furniture industry and hopefully decide to pursue furniture manufacturing as a career.”  

The SOFA program was formed through the collaboration of CVCC's Catawba Valley Furniture Academy, the North Carolina Community College System and ApprenticeshipNC, Catawba County Schools, Hickory Public Schools, Newton-Conover City Schools, Century Furniture, CR Laine Furniture, Geiger International, HBF Textiles, Hickory Chair, Lexington Home Brands, Restoration Hardware, Sherrill Furniture and Vanguard Furniture.

“It is with these industry and business partnerships that we can offer pathways to our young adults into successful careers,” said Kimberly Propst, Apprenticeship Coordinator, Catawba Valley Community College. “Apprenticeship gives us the flexibility to provide post-secondary education and industry training simultaneously while being paid. It is the best of both worlds.”

Moving forward, the SOFA program will fall under the newly formed Catawba Apprenticeship Network sponsored by Catawba Valley Community College. This program will continue to recruit high school students into areas of advanced manufacturing, furniture occupations, health care and public safety. The development of this program was designed through the efforts of Catawba Valley Community College and local industry partners. 

For more information on the SOFA program at CVCC, please contact CVCC's Corporate Development Center at 828-327-7000, ext. 4294, or visit the Students Of Furniture Apprenticeship (SOFA) website.

PHOTO: Emily McNeely, Bassett Furniture HR Director; Kelly Benfield, Bassett Furniture Product Development; SOFA graduate Kalaya Vang; Windy Wilcox, Century Furniture Sewing Supervisor & CVFA Instructor; SOFA graduate Kaitlyn Killian; Caren Howard, Century Furniture HR Manager; Jason Connell, HBF/HNI Lean Development Manager & CVFA Instructor; Catherine Schiffell, CVFA Instructor; Cindy Fulbright, Director of CVFA & Alexander Furniture Academies; SOFA graduate Evan Lambert and Jared Nava-Salgado, Century Furniture HR Assistant manager.

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