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Smiling young man on the floor of a convention wearing a puffy black coat and ID badge

Meet Antonio

One of Antonio’s favorite places to be is in the kitchen. His face lights up talking about food. “I like to cook shrimp, fried rice, chicken alfredo, steak,” he says. Who taught him to cook? “I taught myself to cook!” he says proudly, with a laugh.

He does give some credit to the cooking skills he learned after school in SOAR365’s Youth Services. Program participants use the kitchen for lessons in making everything from kimchi to cakes.

Antonio is a familiar face around SOAR365. He started his journey in Youth Services in 2020.

“I enjoyed working with Antonio for roughly four years,” says Desiree Anderson, Supervisor of Youth Services. “I watched him transition from a young boy to a man. He is respectful, responsible, and very helpful. He is a great friend, and he enjoys learning new things!”

Last May, Antonio graduated high school and officially graduated from Youth Services. He and two of his friends wore caps and gowns and received their own SOAR365 diplomas, medallions and awards.

“One of my favorite memories of Antonio was during his Youth Services graduation. He stood up in front of a crowd of family, staff, and friends, and he thanked everyone for celebrating him,” says Desiree.

When our participants graduate high school, they often want to stay with SOAR365. Antonio was no exception.

Today, he attends not one but two SOAR365 programs: Adult Day Support and Supported Employment. Adult Day Support helps him continue to grow and achieve his goals now that he’s out of school. And Supported Employment helps prepare him for the working world.

Every step of the way, Antonio is supported by staff and friends who know him well and are rooting for him. “I’ve got a whole crew,” he says.

At Adult Day Support, he’s known for being a great helper, who loves to clean and sweep. “I help stack the chairs and put them on the table,” he says, proudly. Antonio also enjoys volunteering with Meals on Wheels, or helping staff members shop for birthday party supplies.

“It has been a special reward to see Antonio be so willing to help other participants and SOAR365 staff,” says Vandal Truong, Director of Youth Services and Adult Day Support. “His enthusiasm and desire to see others succeed says so much about his own growth as a caring, young adult.”

“I like coming here,” says Antonio. Depending on the day, he might go swimming, do a puzzle, make soap, plant carrots or play kickball. Antonio likes to know what to expect, and says he appreciates that SOAR365’s Adult Day Support offers a daily schedule of activities.

Antonio is a planner by nature, and he’s very organized. Not only does he keep track of his Adult Day Support activities, but he also knows when he gets to visit family, and even what weekday his next birthday falls on…and what he wants to ask for. On his wishlist? A new phone, a PS6 and color-coordinated outfits.

These days, Antonio is living life almost independently. He resides with his sister, and he takes a lot of pride in his home. “I vacuum my room,” he says. For fun, he likes to play basketball or video games, or “go outside and hang out with my friends.”

He even helped start a SOAR365 basketball league, where participants from different locations can play against each other. When asked if he’s always loved basketball, Antonio smiles and says, “Yeah. I’m good at it!”

Next month, he’s looking forward to experiencing SOAR365’s prom for the first time. Antonio likes to listen to music by Chris Brown and Justin Bieber, but that’s not all…he and his friends also love to perform. “I dance, too. And I sing, too!” says Antonio.

There’s no doubt that Antonio is talented. And now, he’s even exploring potential jobs. While he has his heart set on being a cashier at McDonald’s, his SOAR365 employment specialist, Leeanne Jones, is exposing him to a wide range of career options…starting with his love of cooking.

In February, Antonio got to try working in the kitchen at Mercy Chefs. “He was tasked with preparing roast beef and cheese sandwiches, slicing cherry tomatoes lengthwise, preparing pasta salad and baking chocolate chip cookies,” says Leeanne.

“Antonio was guided by the two chefs on site, and he gained a lot of experience and knowledge in our time there. He was attentive to detail by ensuring each sandwich had the same amount of meat, that the tomatoes were sliced uniformly, and that the pasta salad was evenly distributed between pans.” He even learned all about food safety guidelines.

The following month, Antonio helped out preparing lunches and drinks for participants at Teen Summit RVA.

“Antonio packed sandwiches and cookies in the boxes, stacked them on the table to be served, poured drinks for participants as they ordered with multiple options and socialized with those coming through,” says Leeanne. “He remained calm, focused on the tasks, and worked well both independently and on the team to ensure food service ran smoothly.”

With his positive attitude and fun personality, we know the sky is the limit for Antonio. “Antonio is fearless, and I am excited to see where the future takes him!” says Desiree.

Interested in volunteering? Want to learn more about our programs? Visit or contact us at (804) 358-1874.

You can help create life-changing opportunities for people with disabilities – like Antonio! Donate today to support this important work.

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