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Want to learn more about meal planning and nutrition? Or take an art class to unleash your creative side? Want to learn how to fill out a job application or safely use public transportation? If you’re a participant in SOAR365 University, then you can!

What is SOAR365 University?

SOAR365 University is the newest of SOAR365’s enrichment programs, made specifically for our Adult Day Support participants who want to learn and develop new skills.

Before the pandemic, activities were limited by location and the skill set of each in-person instructor. COVID-19 certainly brought many challenges to SOAR365, but the shift to virtual interaction allowed us to focus on fulfilling a long-held dream — offering all participants the same choice of educational programming, regardless of location!

SOAR365 University now provides a unified curriculum that is available both virtually and in person. A wide range of high-quality lessons are consistently available across SOAR365 locations, in the following areas of interest: Housing and Management, Health and Safety, Electives, and Employment Skills.

“The participants enjoyed the lesson on planting seeds for a successful garden. They were able to plant in the flower beds in the courtyard and took vegetables home once grown.” — Marsha Christian, Supervisor in Adult Day Support
Individuals interested in developing independent living skills — such as cooking, cleaning, and budgeting — can learn them through Housing and Management tutorials. Participants seeking to exercise better personal care, physical fitness and mental health can meet their goals with the help of Health and Safety lessons.

For those who are interested in career training, the Employment Skills category focuses on professional development, offering job readiness training, resume writing tips and more! If program participants want to express themselves through art or learn to play sports, the Electives curriculum is a perfect choice for them.

SOAR365 University provides a range of tutorials for each individual’s unique interests, making creativity, community and care accessible to everyone.

How was it created?

Program volunteers develop lesson plans and content for SOAR365 University, offering tutorials that are easy and enjoyable to follow. “Lessons are created to support all participants and meet them where they thrive best,” says LaTashia McLeod, Adult Day Support Supervisor at Camp Baker.

Learning and having fun!
“I like to do puzzles and virtual lessons at SOAR365. I also enjoy playing basketball,” says Jacob Phillip, pictured beaming behind an array of colorful puzzles he completed in SOAR365 University.

Vanessa Atra has been instrumental in this effort. A recent graduate of VCU’s pre-med program, Vanessa began volunteering with SOAR365 in June 2020 as a virtual program curriculum intern under Emily Lehmann, Assistant Vice President of Day and Respite Services.

SOAR365’s program participants are a diverse group and designing courses for participants with a wide range of disabilities can be challenging. “In the beginning, writing the lessons was difficult because I wanted to make sure the lessons were inclusive, but I didn’t know the intended audience,” Vanessa shared. She persevered and “received a lot of coaching from Emily and her team,” which led her to success!

Over the past year, Vanessa wrote SOAR365 lesson plans “on a variety of topics, such as team building, work etiquette, preparing for a job interview, eating healthy, understanding emotions and how to deal with them, (and) exercising,” she explains. Vanessa has also been teaching many of the lessons she’s written, which she says was “the best part” of her experience.

How does it work?

Lessons are taught through a combination of in-person training, live Microsoft Teams instruction, and online skill-building and enrichment activity videos. No matter the format, staff and volunteers work side-by-side with our participants to provide an engaging experience.

“The curriculum we now have as part of SOAR365 University has allowed us to have a much more robust and best-in-class program. Having the lessons already created and laid out for staff makes it so much easier for them to plan and carry out some of the best programming we have seen to date,” says Danny Kenyon, Adult Day Support Supervisor at Saunders.

Morgan Fuqua, a graduate student at Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU), is one of many volunteers who have recorded online lessons to help participants develop new skills. Morgan’s tutorial, under the Health and Safety section, focuses on self-care, teaching individuals how to prepare a face mask for a spa day. Morgan’s tips have encouraged participants to “feel more confident in [their] skin,” one of her biggest goals in filming her videos.

Spencer West is another graduate student at VCU who has developed video tutorials for SOAR365 University, sharing his love of music. “It’s a cliché, but music is the universal language. It connects with everyone,” Spencer explains.

Both Spencer and Morgan used laptops to record their segments, and each prepared by outlining key points and drafting a script. “I wanted to make sure it went smoothly,” said Morgan, advising the camera-shy to concentrate instead “on the impact you’re having on someone else’s life.”

Benefits of SOAR365 University

SOAR365 University not only provides individuals with opportunities for personal development, but it also serves as a platform for connection. Now, our participants are not only interacting with those in their local program — they are able to socialize with friends and take classes led by interns, volunteers and staff members from all other locations.

“Our participants are now able to participate in group activities and lessons with their peers in other locations for the first time, challenging each other. Our staff have become much stronger since they are all able to now work together without barriers of distance,” says Danny.

Whether participating virtually or in-person, participants who tune in to SOAR365 University can expect to be welcomed by a community ready to greet and grow with them.

For interested volunteers

Have a special area of interest or expertise you’d like to share with others? If you’d like to contribute your time and talents to SOAR365 University or find out more about volunteer opportunities at SOAR365, please send an email to [email protected].

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