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SOAR365 Supported Employment Inspires DeCarlos to Dream Big

DeCarlos recently completed an internship with Virginia Delegate Rozia Henson.

DeCarlos Savage never dreamed he’d be an intern on the floor of the Virginia General Assembly. Seeing legislators debate political issues in real life was surreal. It was nothing like watching on TV.

“I was in a state of shock during this whole thing,” says DeCarlos. “I was like, ‘Wow!’”

It was new to Delegate Henson, too, as a first-term representative from Woodbridge, VA. His progressive platform focuses on “ensuring that the underrepresented, marginalized voices are heard and that they feel supported by their local leaders and community.”

When he assembled his team, he wanted it to reflect his values. It was important to him to include people with disabilities, so he reached out to Ashlie Strackbein at the ServiceSource in Oakton, Virginia.

“Delegate Henson is familiar with ServiceSource and really took the initiative and said, ‘Hey, I’d really like to hire somebody with a disability to work on my team during this session. How can we do that?’” says Ashlie.

ServiceSource is a nonprofit headquartered in northern Virginia. Much like SOAR365, they offer both employment and community integration programs for people with disabilities. The two organizations have previously worked together on advocacy efforts, through the Alliance for Expanding America’s Workforce and vaACCSES.

Knowing this opportunity would be based in Richmond, Ashlie immediately reached out to SOAR365. And she hopes it’s just the beginning.

“Because of the success of these internships, other senators and delegates are saying, ‘Oh, I would like to do that!’” says Ashlie. “With Delegate Henson’s leadership and our partnership with SOAR365, we look forward to expanding those employment opportunities.”

Finding the Right Fit

Chris Martin, SOAR365 Director of Employment Services, helped find two candidates that would be just right for Team Henson: DeCarlos and Jim New.

They balanced each other out, says Erik Schmidt, their SOAR365 employment specialist. Where Jim loved to deliver packages and meet and greet politicians, DeCarlos was more interested in debate and understanding the issues at hand.

DeCarlos came to the internship after completing his studies at John Tyler Community College, and he is a deep thinker who likes to explore and observe.

When DeCarlos was first diagnosed with MS in 2003, his father took him on many interesting trips and outings. Sadly, he passed away the following year. That was hard on DeCarlos, but he says, “You get strength from places you don’t think you will.”

Now, Erik notes that “the SOAR365 Magic School Bus” has opened up DeCarlos’ world again, taking him to new places and experiences.

Fulfilling Work

The internship was different than DeCarlos’ previous jobs at UPS, Golden Corral, Goodwill or the commissary at Fort Lee. “Busier. Everything was busier,” says DeCarlos. His days were a rush of meetings with lobbyists and politicians, invitations to special luncheons, and more.

Every step of the way, Erik was by his side. “DeCarlos was being stopped and high-fived by all sorts of people coming by,” notes Erik. “He was really personable. When he had his one-on-ones, he really connected on deep levels with people.”

“Getting Delegate Henson to talk about his school life and his family life and his relationships with his brothers. Those are rare conversations to be a witness of, and for him, that was second nature,” says Erik. DeCarlos nods, “I do that with anybody.”

They also engaged in hard work behind the scenes, sorting documents by topics, including the election, communications and healthcare. “We helped compile a stack of how many binders?” asks Erik. “50 million,” answers DeCarlos, and the two burst into laughter.

Focused on the Issues

The comradery made the work fun. But if you ask DeCarlos to describe his internship, one word keeps coming up over and over again: “mind-opening.”

One particular issue hit close to home: Medicaid waivers for people with disabilities. DeCarlos said he was surprised to find out there were waivers for housing and other expenses. He noted how expensive it can be for people with disabilities to live independently.

When asked if he felt that information should be easier to access, DeCarlos says yes. “That was definitely a thing that he was championing the whole time,” says Erik. “He was saying how much better it would be to have information handy and easy to go through” for people with disabilities.

Ashlie says that’s the beauty of this kind of opportunity. “It’s not only a learning experience, but it’s also very rewarding to feel like you’re directly contributing to the work of the General Assembly. Especially if you have personal experience to offer.”

What’s Next: Compassion in Action

Helping others is important to DeCarlos. After his diagnosis, he started a blog entitled the MS Corner. Here, DeCarlos shares inspirational life advice, encouraging others to overcome obstacles. He also encourages a focus on health and nutrition.

It’s been a lifelong passion for him. Growing up, DeCarlos’s favorite part of school was playing baseball, basketball and football. And he feels that dietary changes have helped his MS symptoms.

Erik asks if DeCarlos still wants to go back to school for sports medicine and nutrition. “I would love that,” says DeCarlos. “To help other people. People dealing with what I’m dealing with. I can’t explain how much that means to me.”

Now, thanks to his internship, DeCarlos sees that there are multiple ways he can make a difference.

“I really enjoyed having DeCarlos on my staff,” says Delegate Henson. “His friendliness and listening skills drew people to him. He was inquisitive and hardworking.”

“And we share a spirit of service. DeCarlos genuinely cares about people and how he can make a difference. You never know what dreams you are igniting by simply giving someone a chance.”

What’s next for DeCarlos? He’s excited to pursue another political internship. DeCarlos shares that he now watches state and local news “every day.” “I can’t stop on the news!” he says.

And don’t be surprised if you see him on the ballot someday. Erik and DeCarlos have already been discussing what his campaign, staffing and platform would look like. And he knows exactly what his campaign slogan would be: “It’s all for you!”

Want to learn more about in Supported Employment? Visit or contact Chris Martin at (804) 381-5405 or [email protected].

You can help adults with disabilities find meaningful job and career training opportunities in our community. Donate today!

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