Henrico County VA
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SEARCH yields answers

Unique program pays off for 8 Henrico students
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.


Community

Garden tails

The threat of bad weather didn’t keep visitors away from Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden July 10 for the facility’s weekly Flowers After 5 event (which pairs music and food with a chance to stroll the garden) and its monthly Fidos After 5 (which allows dog owners to bring their pets with them to enjoy the evening). > Read more.

Western Henrico Rotary helps fund Midwives For Haiti Jeep


Thanks in part to a $10,000 gift from the Western Henrico Rotary Club, another bright pink Jeep modified to travel extremely rough terrain has been delivered to Midwives For Haiti so that more pregnant women in the quake-ravaged country will have access to prenatal care and a greater chance of surviving childbirth.

The funds were raised at the annual casino night held in February, club president Adam Cherry said. The Rotary Club also helped purchase the Virginia-based charity’s first pink jeep three years ago. > Read more.

Agencies combine on new entry point to Chickahominy


Canoeing and kayaking enthusiasts soon will have a new access point to the Chickahominy River. VDOT, the James River Association and Henrico County Parks and Recreation are teaming up to establish a new site in Eastern Henrico.

The James River Association negotiated the deal with VDOT to procure official access to the area located just east of I-295 on North Airport Road in Sandston. The site includes a park-and-ride commuter lot bordering the Chickahominy River and has been an unofficial launch site used by paddlers for years. > Read more.

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Entertainment

Weekend Top 10


Take in a show at several locations this weekend! West End Comedy will provide laughs at HATTheatre; the production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes” will close Sunday; and the youth theatre company CharacterWorks will present “Footloose” at The Steward School. Another show perfect for the kids – “Despicable Me 2” is playing at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center tonight. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

Is there an Echo in here?

‘Earth to Echo’ aims to become this generation’s ‘ET’
It’s no secret that all found-footage genre movies are the same. Grab a couple of characters, give one of them a camera, and expose them to something supernatural that’s content to lurk just off-screen until the last five minutes. Everything else will just fall into place.

But that formula isn’t particularly family friendly, if only because that thing waiting a few feet to the left of the cast is usually plotting their violent doom.

That’s what sets Earth to Echo apart from the pack. It, too, follows a group of characters armed with a camera and a tendency to encounter unknown life forms. But all those familiar parts have been rearranged just enough to make it suitable for a much younger audience. > Read more.

Weekend Top 10


An eclectic array of events are taking place this weekend throughout the county. In the West End, we have the Richmond Wedding Expo, the Under the Stars Family Film Series and Henrico Theatre Company’s production of “Pump Boys and Dinettes.” In the eastern part of the county, we have a blood drive at the Eastern Henrico Recreation Center, Gallmeyer Farm’s annual Sweet Corn Festival and an origami workshop at Fairfield Library. For all our top picks this weekend, click here! > Read more.

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