SEARCH yields answers

They came to celebrate one of the most rewarding years of their lives.

They left with an entirely new reason to be excited.

Eight Henrico County high school students who have forms of autism gathered at Bon Secours St. Mary's Hospital June 10 for graduation ceremonies to mark their completion of a nine-month program known as Project SEARCH, which provided them real-world job training and experience fulfilling various hospital duties.

Little did they know that they would leave the hospital that day with full-time jobs there.

The surprise announcement moved the students and their families – as well as hospital staff members – to tears of joy as they shouted, hugged and smiled.

"We have eight pioneers here," said Paul Wehman, the director of VCU's Rehabilitation Research and Training Center. "They've gone through a seamless transition – right from high school to a work environment."

Project SEARCH is an international program that started in Cincinnati in 1996 as a way to provide employment opportunities in healthcare for disabled citizens.

In Virginia, the program operates at eight locations; locally, it is funded through a VCU grant with assistance from the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services (which funds job coaching services through VCU); Henrico County Public Schools (which provides a teacher and two instructional assistants) and Bon Secours (which provides space, training, equipment and support).

Students were required to apply for the program; once selected, most reported directly to the hospital each day rather than to school, said Jennifer McDonough, the associate director of training for VCU's Rehabilitation and Training Center and also the SEARCH coordinator for Virginia.

Students worked in a variety of departments within the hospital and quickly became favorites of their new coworkers.

"People stopped me in the halls to thank us for having your children in this hospital," McDonough told parents during last week's graduation. "They gave us their smiles, they gave us their love, they gave us their enthusiasm."

The local Project SEARCH is unique because it's the only one – of 150 or more in the world – that involves a research element and only involves autistic students.

Through the program, VCU officials are studying employment models for people with autistic disorders, who suffer an 86 percent unemployment rate nationwide.

"The reason that we put the request in for the grant was because we wanted to show that people with autism can work and be successful," Wehman said.

The first Henrico graduates of Project SEARCH last year also received jobs at St. Mary's.

Henrico teacher Kathy Liamidis, who worked with the students on site, told them that they had been an inspiration to those who they worked with.

"We really feel like we are reaping the benefits of everything you have done," she said.

Though VCU's original five-year grant expires after two more years, the organizations involved with Project SEARCH locally have agreed to continue the program even if the grant is not extended.

"It is a wonderful program, and it is amazing to see these students grow," McDonough said.
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New law paves way for delivery robots

Having your groceries delivered by a robot sounds like something out of The Jetsons, but that prospect is not as futuristic as you may think.

For the second year in a row, the Virginia General Assembly has passed a law to legalize the operation of autonomous vehicles. Beginning July 1, “electric personal delivery devices” will be allowed to operate on sidewalks and other shared-use paths throughout Virginia.

> Read more.

Virginia schools must soon test for lead in water

With the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, safe drinking water is a high priority nationwide, especially for children. Beginning July 1, schools in Virginia will be required to test their potable water for lead.

Senate Bill 1359, which Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed into law on March 20, seeks to ensure that local school boards test the drinking water in schools and that it meets federal guidelines. The Food and Drug Administration recommends that the level of lead not exceed 15 parts per billion. > Read more.

Business in brief


The Virginia Society of Certified Public Accountants (VSCPA) has announced its officers and Board of Directors for the 2017–18 fiscal year. At-large Board members include: Anne B. Hagen, CPA, of Masonic Home of Virginia in Henrico. The officers and directors were sworn in at the VSCPA’s annual business meeting on May 16 in Williamsburg. > Read more.

Free weekly 5k coming to Henrico

The Richmond metro area is no stranger to 5k races and events. To participate in most 5k events, runners must register and pay a fee. But the Parkrun organization will be providing Henrico County with a free 5k every Saturday at Deep Run Park starting June 3.

Parkrun began in England in 2004 and eventually found its way to the U.S.

The Deep Run Parkrun program will be the 10th one in the U.S., said Darrell Stanaford, the country manager for Parkrun USA. > Read more.

State Police urge motorists to #MoveOver during Memorial Day weekend

Memorial Day signifies the official start of summer, and Virginia State Police officials are urging motorists to "do what’s right when they see lights" and move over.

The “Move Over” law is a lifesaving law intended to protect public safety professionals and highway workers who help to maintain the safety of the Commonwealth’s roads. State Police are using the #MoveOver hashtag on social media to promote the law. > Read more.

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Innsbrook After Hours continues its 32nd year with Blackberry Smoke. Since the group’s formation in 2000, the band has never shied away from hard work, playing more than 250 shows a year and building an ever-expanding audience on the strength of its live shows. Gates open at 5 p.m. Show begins at 6 p.m. Tickets start at $15. Net proceeds from the concert series benefit the American Constitution Spirit Foundation and the Innsbrook Foundation. Rain or shine. For tickets and more information, call the IAH Hotline at 423-1779 or visit http://www.innsbrookafterhours.com. Full text

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