Adults with disabilities learn job skills from county employees
CHESTERFIELD — On Dec. 4th, Chesterfield County public safety and general services departments kicked off the inaugural 16-week Growth Through Opportunity, or GTO, cadet academy, providing five adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities the opportunity to learn job skills from county employees. The goal of the academy is to enhance safety and understanding among the GTO cadets and first responders, and to help cadets develop transferable knowledge, skills and abilities to earn competitive employment upon completion of the program. This is the first GTO Cadet academy in the Richmond region.
In concert with the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, GTO provides adults who have autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injury and other unique challenges an opportunity to gain valuable job skills and social experience. The five individuals participating in the academy are all from Chesterfield and will train alongside members of the county’s Sheriff’s Office and Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Services and General Services departments.
“Chesterfield's Public Safety Community, Police, Sheriff, Fire and EMS, remain engaged in our community every day through a number of programs and initiatives as we value those relationships,” Sheriff Karl Leonard said. “That is why we are very excited about this joint endeavor and the positive impact that the GTO program will have on these cadets. The cadets will get a one-of-a-kind opportunity to interact with public safety that, in turn, will empower them long after they graduate and hopefully prepare them for gainful employment when they leave.”
GTO was founded in November 2014 by Travis Akins, a 23-year veteran working in the criminal justice system in a variety of law enforcement capacities. He and his team work with each cadet to cater the volunteer experience specifically to their interest and goals. The unique GTO Cadets program is endorsed by the National Sheriffs’ Association, National Down Syndrome Society, and the ARC of the United States, and was recently highlighted by the U.S. Department of Justice. GTO was the recipient of a 2017 HARVARD Kennedy School Innovations & Bright Ideas award and recognized on Capitol Hill as the Champion of Change — Organization of the Year in 2017. GTO currently partners with 30 public safety agencies across Virginia and Minnesota with a goal of expanding nationwide over the next few years.