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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Smither named director of Henrico’s Department of Finance

Henrico County Manager John A. Vithoulkas has appointed Edward N. “Ned” Smither Jr. to serve as director of the Department of Finance, effective July 1.

Smither has served Henrico since 2013 as director of the Accounting Division in Finance. He will succeed Eugene H. Walter, who has delayed his retirement until June 30 to ensure an orderly transition within the department.
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State honors EMS officials this week

There were nearly 1.5 million emergency medical services calls and 4,063 incidents per day in Virginia just last year.

This week, May 21-27, declared as National EMS week by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, recognizes the more than 34,000 EMS personnel and 631 agencies in the state and commends their efforts and commitment to Commonwealth citizens.
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Norfolk man arrested at RIC after TSA catches him with gun

A Norfolk man was arrested at Richmond International Airport May 18 after Transportation Security Administration officers detected a loaded semi-automatic handgun in the traveler’s carry-on bag.

A TSA officer detected the .40 caliber semi-automatic handgun inside the man’s carry-on bag as it passed through the security checkpoint X-ray machine. The handgun was loaded with 13 bullets.
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Police release photo of hoax bomb

Henrico Police have released a photo of the clock that resembled a bomb that led to the arrest of a Richmond woman in Shot Pump earlier this week.

The device, which the woman told police she purchased at a yard sale, was visible in her car at the Whole Foods at West Broad Village May 19, and a passerby called police, fearing it was a real bomb. Police responded as they would have had the device been real, they said, because they weren't sure if it was real or not.
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Henrico school buses with compliance issue to be fixed this summer


The 176 Henrico school buses that have been purchased since March 2011 will be fixed during the summer, Henrico Schools spokesman Andy Jenks told the Citizen. The bus manufacturers will retrofit the buses at no cost to the school division, he said.

The brake interlock device is required on all automatic transmission buses in Virginia that were purchased after March 2011, which is when the device was added to the state Board of Education's requirements for school buses. As many as 4,000 school buses in the state may be affected, according to the Virginia Department of Education.
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Time Sawyer will perform at 8 p.m. at The Tin Pan, 8982 Quioccasin Rd. Lead vocalist Sam Tayloe and Kurt Layell recorded an acoustic EP together in 2010 that lead to the start of the band. The addition in 2011 of Houston Norris, on banjo, and Clay Stirewalt, on drums, made up the group through early 2016. Time Sawyer's first album, "Time for a Change,” placed high on WNCW's list of Top 20 Regional Albums of 2011. Doors open at 6 p.m. Tickets are $10 in advance and $15 at the door. For details, call 447-8189 or visit http://www.tinpanrva.com. Full text

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