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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Earnhardt gives Redskins a ride


Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the Hendrick Motorsports No. 88, stopped at Richmond Raceway Aug. 8 in advance of the track’s NASCAR weekend in September. He was joined by five players from the Washington Redskins, who were in town for the team's training camp, which concluded Aug. 14. The day in Richmond gave Earnhardt and the Redskins players an opportunity to see how the athletes compete in their respective sports. > Read more.

READ Center a finalist for $25k grant


The READ Center is a top-200 cause finalist in State Farm’s Neighborhood Assist program, making it eligible to earn a $25,000 grant to support adult literacy in the Richmond region. The 40 organizations from across the nation with the most votes will win grants.

The READ Center, based in Henrico, provides classroom instruction and one-to-one tutoring to adults with very low literacy. > Read more.

Henrico County property transactions, Aug. 1-6


A sample of property transactions during this period appear below:

1847 New Market Road – $137,000, 1,659 SF (built in 1935), from Philip J. Whiteway, III and Donna H. Whiteway et. al to David T. and Katherine W. Benckert.
6304 Trailing Ridge Court – $165,000, 1,246 SF (built in 1999), from Carol A. Allen to Sandra R. Jefferson.
1722 Devers Road – $169,950, 816 SF (built in 1949), from Heather K. Brunner to Kasey A. Sheridan and Jason Talbot.
3201 Purvis Road – $175,000, 2,051 SF (built in 1997), from Geneva Moore LLC to Jessica I. Bolling. > Read more.

Glen Allen wins 2 of first 3 games at 14U Babe Ruth World Series


The host Glen Allen 14-year-old all-star baseball team won two of its first three games in pool play at the 14-year-old Babe Ruth World Series, which is it hosting at RF&P Stadium in Glen Allen. The team beat the Midwest Plains champions, 9-4, in its first game Aug. 10, then topped the Southwest champions, 7-3, Aug. 11 before dropping a 5-4 result to the Ohio Valley champions. > Read more.

Filipino Festival draws thousands


Thousands of attendees visited the annual Filipino Festival at Our Lady of Lourdes Church in Lakeside Aug. 11-12, enjoying native foods, entertainment, clothing and commemorative items and much more. > Read more.

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Guitar great Larry Carlton will perform at 8 p.m. at The Tin Pan, 8982 Quioccasin Rd. Carlton is a 19-time Grammy nominee and four-time Grammy winner with 30 albums to his credit. His studio credits include musicians and groups like Steely Dan, Joni Mitchell, Michael Jackson, Sammy Davis Jr., Herb Alpert, Quincy Jones, Bobby Bland, Dolly Parton and Linda Ronstadt, among others. He has also performed with the Crusaders and the multi-platinum jazz super group Fourplay. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. Doors open at 6 p.m. For details, call 447-8189 or visit http://www.tinpanrva.com. Full text

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