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SOAR365’s Youth Services Opens a World of Opportunity For Kids with Disabilities

Warm coats. Rosy cheeks. And smiling faces beaming under colorful, twinkling lights.

If your family visited Lewis Ginter Botanical Garden’s GardenFest of Lights this holiday season, you may have spotted SOAR365’s Youth Services participants enjoying the magic, too!

SOAR365’s Youth Services helps children navigate the real-world challenges of living with a disability, setting them up for success. Local trips such as these are the perfect opportunity to practice social skills, gain confidence, and most importantly…have fun!

Whether in-office or out in the community, SOAR365’s Youth Services’ unique, tailored approach focuses on achieving each individual’s educational, social, behavioral and developmental goals.

Support families can count on!

When school’s closed, SOAR365’s Youth Services is open — and ready to inspire, challenge, encourage, educate and care for children with disabilities. SOAR365 is here for students and families until high school graduation, which by law can be until they are 22 years old.

Five days a week, SOAR365’s dedicated direct support professionals (or DSPs) lead games and activities, encourage creativity through art and music, help participants with homework, and teach them a variety of life skills — from nutrition and cooking to safety and money management.

Passionate about finding personalized supports that allow each child to thrive, the staff’s enthusiasm and positive energy are contagious. They also keep caregivers up to date through communication logs, monthly activity calendars, newsletters and more.

This means parents can focus on work or other responsibilities, knowing their child is safe, well-cared for and happily achieving their own goals.

It takes a village!

SOAR365’s Youth Services is a core part of each child’s care team. Staff work closely with families, schools, therapists, doctors and other providers to develop an Individualized Service Plan (ISP) and ensure each child is on track to meet their educational and developmental objectives.

In 2021, Children & Youth held successful outreach meetings with local school systems and community services boards in Hanover County, Chesterfield County and the City of Richmond.

“Schools are a strong partner. We want to ensure continuity of services.  Ensuring our participants have consistent implementation of their goals equates to great success,” explains Lisa Coates, Director of Children & Youth Services.

Community partnerships also help educate others about disability and provide much-needed resources for parents. This year, Children & Youth hosted a vehicle in the Autism Society of Central Virginia’s “trunk-or-treat” Halloween event and was an exhibitor at the 15th Annual Step UP for Down Syndrome 5k, held by the Down Syndrome Association of Greater Richmond.

Real results for the real world

For SOAR365’s Youth Services participants, all of Richmond is their classroom.

One of Desiree Anderson’s favorite success stories as a Children & Youth DSP features a young boy who initially struggled with crowds, playground equipment, and sensory issues. This made playdates, errands and outings difficult. With Desiree’s patience and persistence, he began to enjoy group trips to the mall and even laughed all the way down the slide.

Desiree was also able to help him learn to use headphones to block unwanted noises, something he’d struggled with in physical therapy. Now, he has a powerful new tool to use in a variety of environments, truly expanding his world.

Activities also connect participants to community events, like elections. In November, Children & Youth participants completed voter registration forms, received a mock voter’s card, cast their ballot and even received an “I VOTED” sticker! They gained new skills, plus firsthand experience of how democracy works and the power of their votes. 

For older participants, like high schooler Trey Murray, Children & Youth provides work training, career exploration and other challenges to prepare for independence in adulthood. Using fun and engaging activities, “SOAR365 reinforces the life skills that are needed outside these walls,” says his father, Bucky.

With a proud smile, Bucky adds: “He is doing so well here that he was just able to move into his own (assisted-living) apartment. He launched!”

The ultimate goal!

Staff members work hard to help young participants have “a quality of life that is one of joy and independence,” explains Lisa. She describes their role as “being a teacher, friend, advocate, and cheerleader, all while promoting self-determination.”

Whether participating in high-quality curricula at SOAR365 facilities or trying new things around town, Children & Youth participants are constantly growing and achieving. “Every day is an adventure at SOAR365 Children & Youth,” adds Desiree.

To learn more about SOAR365’s Youth Services, contact Lisa Coates, SOAR365 Director of Children & Youth Services, at [email protected] or (804) 665-1237.

To find out more about volunteering with SOAR365’s Youth Services, contact Alison Jones-Nassar, SOAR365 Volunteer Engagement Manager, at [email protected] or (804) 665-1214.

To find out more about supporting the work of SOAR365, visit

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