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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Henrico School Board selects redistricting Option E


JUNE 23, 10:30 A.M. – The Henrico County School Board Thursday concluded its latest redistricting process by selecting a plan for middle school redistricting that will impact a number of students in the western and northern parts of the county, as well as a few in Eastern Henrico.

The process sought to reduce overcrowding at Hungary Creek Middle School, create room at Wilder Middle School for a gifted academy and address the poverty level disparity among some middle schools. It will impact about 775 students, according to school system officials. > Read more.

‘Senior Cool Care’ program to help older adults in Metro Richmond


For the 27th year, Senior Connections, The Capital Area Agency on Aging is helping older adults combat summer heat through a program now called "Senior Cool Care" (formerly the Fan Care program) that provides fan and air conditioning units for eligible senior citizens.

The program is available to low-income older adults age 60 and older who reside in the City of Richmond and the counties of Charles City, Chesterfield, Goochland, Hanover, Henrico, New Kent and Powhatan. > Read more.

Cyclist killed in crash was 52-year-old man

Henrico Police have named the victim killed June 21 when the bicycle he was riding collided with a truck on Mechanicsville Turnpike near I-64 in Eastern Henrico.

Fifty-two year-old Ray J. Freeman, of Richmond, died at a local hospital after being struck. The truck that hit him was traveling south on Mechanicsville Turnpike. > Read more.

Henrico man sentenced to 10 years in prison for dealing heroin

A Henrico man was sentenced June 20 to 10 years in prison for distribution of heroin.

Arlando Harris, 35, pleaded guilty on Dec. 29, 2016. According to the statement of facts filed with the plea agreement, Henrico Police executed a search warrant at Harris' mother's residence in Henrico on March 16, 2016. > Read more.

Glen Allen HS student earns playwriting residency


A play written by a Glen Allen High School junior was selected, along with seven others, to be performed professionally this summer through a nationally acclaimed Virginia high school playwriting program.

47B, a play written by 16-year-old Glen Allen High school student Dominique Dowling, was chosen by New Voices for the Theater, a playwriting competition sponsored by the School of the Performing Arts in the Richmond Community, from a pool of more than 150 plays by high school students in the state. > Read more.

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Lavender Fields Herb Farm, 11300 Winfrey Rd. in Glen Allen, will offer the class “Growing Lavender” at 9 a.m. The class will cover how to pick out varieties and prepare the area you are looking to plant, as well as maintenance and enjoying your lavender. Cost is $20. For details, call 262-7167 or visit http://www.lavenderfieldsfarm.com. Full text

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