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Project SEARCH students graduate with jobs

Twenty years ago, Bradford Hulcher wouldn’t have believed that her son, Sam, would have a job after high school.

But earlier this month, after graduating from the yearlong Project SEARCH internship program, Sam Hulcher and six other young adults with autism from Henrico County were offered jobs at Bon Secours St. Mary’s Hospital.

“I’m just so excited,” Bradford Hulcher said.

Project SEARCH is a national program that provides internships for high school students with intellectual and developmental disabilities to help them develop skills and work experience. Of 200 programs nationwide, St. Mary’s is the only one that works exclusively with only autistic students and involves a research component, said Paul Wehman of the Virginia Commonwealth University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center.

“This was a novel idea,” Wehman said. The grant to fund the St. Mary’s program is designed to study the effectiveness of this program compared to in-school programs offered by public schools. Every year, the program’s interns have been hired after its conclusion, he said.

“The other two years we’d done this, I’ve thought, ‘Yes this is why I’ve been in this field so long,’” Wehman said of the program’s success. “No matter how many books I write or papers, this basically affirms what we’re about.”

During the graduation, Wheman told students that the day was theirs.

“You’re heroes, pioneers and champions,” he said. “You did it. It doesn’t just happen. You did it because you joined hands.”

Participating students gave up their final year of high school, which by law they can attend until they are 21 years old, to apply for the program. Those accepted were chosen randomly from the pool of applicants, said Steven Harris, whose son, Sean, applied twice.

“We had talked to his teachers through- out the years about life after high school, and like they said, this was an opportunity of a lifetime,” he said. “We’re very thankful to his teachers for encouraging us to do this. They said it would be a good fit for him. I’ve been a blubbering idiot the whole time. I feel so strongly today.”

Sean Harris was one of four students selected from Deep Run High School.

“We were just really lucky this year to have so many of our students be chosen,” said Linda Maillet, Sean Harris’ exceptional education teacher from Deep Run, who attended the ceremony.

Former Deep Run student Brittany Lott said she had learned how to be independent through the program. Her father, Milton Randall, said that he felt exhilarated after the ceremony.

“You know she’s really come a long way,” he said. “When she left Deep Run there was a lot of apprehension there. . . She’s just matured over the course of the year here.”

Nurse Manager Cynthia Rogers said she had begged for an intern every year and that her staff misses the interns when they’re not there. “So I’m hiring,” she said enthusiastically.

Interns have worked with more than 60 departments in the hospital, including the cardiovascular and telemetry services department, in which Rogers works.

When asked what she would tell parents or others considering the St. Mary’s program, she said, “I think the big thing is to give them a chance, because we were really amazed at what they were able to do when given the chance, and now I’m not sure we can function without them.”

St. Mary’s CEO Toni Ardabell, who surprised parents and students alike by announcing that the students would start work in the fall if they chose, thanked the students for their contributions.

“You taught us more than you expected,” she said. “Thank you for teaching us patience and determination.”
Community

Lions Club donates backpacks to elementary school

The Richmond West Breakfast Lions Club (based in western Henrico) recently donated 59 backpacks to the Westover Hills Elementary School on Jahnke Road.

Above, club members display some of the backpacks prior to their distribution. > Read more.

Glen Allen student to perform at Carnegie Hall

Thanks to a first-place win in The American Protege International Vocal Competition 2014, Glen Allen High School student Matija Tomas will travel to New York City to perform at Carnegie Hall in December.

At the first-place winners recital in Weill Hall, Matija will perform Giacomo Puccini’s opera aria, “Chi il bel sogna di doretta.” She will perform with other vocalists from around the world and have the opportunity to win other awards and scholarships.

Locally, Thomas has performed with Richmond’s renowned Glorious Christmas Nights, Christian Youth Theatre, and WEAG’s Urban Gospel Youth Choir. > Read more.

Gayton Baptist Church dedicates new outreach center


The John Rolfe YMCA and Gayton Baptist Church have partnered in an effort to bring greater health and wellness opportunities to the community.

Through this partnership, the John Rolfe Y will run Youth Winter Sports programs, including basketball and indoor soccer, in Gayton’s newly renovated $5.5 million outreach center that features a new gymnasium, youth and teen space, social space with café, meeting space and full service commercial kitchen. > Read more.

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Entertainment

The Boathouse to open at Short Pump Town Center

The Boathouse restaurant will open at Short Pump Town Center in the spring, its third location in the region.

“People have asked us to come to the West End for years,” said owner Kevin Healy. “When the opportunity arose, we knew had to jump on it.”

The new restaurant will be located in a 5,800-square-foot space under the Hyatt House Hotel at the town center and will include a large outdoor patio. > Read more.

Getting a ‘mouf’-ful

Boka Kantina exceeds its strong food truck reputation
Already a fan of Boka fare from outdoor events with the Tako Truck, I was delighted to learn of the new restaurant, and eager to see if its reputation held up after putting down brick-and-mortar roots.

Would the food lose its zest if I wasn’t enjoying it in the great outdoors? Would it seem pedestrian served from an ordinary kitchen instead of a truck?

Would the tacos be less satisfying as an antidote to normal lunch hunger – instead of being ingested to stave off desperate hunger after a long afternoon of crowds, sun, and tedious lines? > Read more.

Lakeside microbrewery beginning to take shape

Original Gravity gets the green light to move forward with relocation, expansion into larger space

A Lakeside home-brewing shop has felt the gravitational pull toward the booming craft beer scene.

Original Gravity, a shop that sells beer and wine kits for homebrewers, has just been given the green light to start work on a microbrewery.

Owner Tony Ammendolia is expanding his 1,000-square-foot shop in Lakeside Town Center to 5,000-square-foot digs a few doors down to add a brewery and expand his supplies.

Ammendolia opened the home-brew supply store in November 2011 and since then he said business has taken off.

“I think I outgrew this place in the first year,” Ammendolia said. “We’ve seen steady growth and I’ve been looking for a place to expand to move the shop to get more square footage.” > Read more.

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NAMI of Central Virginia will sponsor a free Peer-to-Peer Education Program specifically for adults with mental illness. The 10-week series of classes will start Friday, Oct. 3 from 1 p.m.… Full text

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