With a recently-awarded grant for $250,000 from the Perry Foundation, and with generous support from private donors, the Virginia Institute of Autism (VIA) is not just responding to the current pandemic, they’re actively building for the future.
For several years, VIA has quietly been working to develop a home for its planned Center for Adolescent and Adult Autism Services (CAAAS). The project will create a state-of-the-art facility to house VIA’s job training and lifelong learning services for teens and adults with autism.
“The Perry Foundation has been an integral partner in helping our area non-profits grow,” said Kelley MacDougall, a member of VIA’s Board of Directors and of its Capital Campaign Steering Committee. “VIA is proud to collaborate with Perry to realize the long-envisioned Center for Adolescent and Adult Autism Services.”
The new Center will fill a substantial gap in services for people with autism, and it will do so at a crucial time. Rates of autism diagnosis have been rising for decades. That rise is still ongoing. Earlier this year the Centers for Disease Control announced that the incidence of autism has now risen to 1 in every 54 children.
“Autism is not shutting down during the pandemic,” said VIA President and CEO Dr. Ethan Long. “VIA has to do more than just sustain through this crisis and after. People with autism in our community need us to continue to expand services to meet their growing needs.”
More people diagnosed with autism means more people growing older with autism. As they grow older they “age out” of the extensive school-based services and supports available to special-needs children. Once they have passed school age, funding and access to services become more scarce, a phenomenon known to the families who are facing it as falling off the “autism cliff.”
Jeff Coppola, also a member of VIA’s Board of Directors, is father to a son who recently aged out of school-based services.
“VIA’s investment in CAAAS is so critical in providing a soft landing for our post-high teens and adults with autism,” said Coppola. “That population will only continue to grow over the next decade with the increase in autism diagnoses.”
The new facility will bridge the gap in services for adults by allowing for greater coordination and continuity between school and adult services.
“CAAAS will bring together under one roof all of VIA’s services for teens and adults,” said Long. “It will house our job training programs, paid work and volunteering opportunities, training in life skills and personal independence, and it will be a social hub for community connection.”
Coppola observed: “The potential is endless in terms of what these programs will provide for our son’s confidence, social skills, navigating the “real” world, and sense of self-worth.”
With the first phase of the fundraising completed in April, VIA purchased the building that was the former home of the Senior Center, at 491 Hillsdale Drive in Charlottesville. Now, renovation is underway, and the grant from the Perry Foundation is helping move the new facility toward completion.
The grant is intended to spur community engagement with the project by requiring new fundraising to match the grant. VIA plans to open up the matching campaign to the public early next year. According to MacDougall, “the members of VIA’s Campaign Steering Committee are engaging a broad base of donors to meet the grant’s matching requirement.”
Enthusiasm for the project among VIA’s supporters is high. Campaign Committee member Pam Edmonds summed up the excitement: “We are so grateful for the Perry Foundation’s support as we work to expand VIA’s services to meet the needs of families in our community.”
The facility is tentatively scheduled to open its doors to teens and adults for programming in the spring of 2021, perhaps in time for Autism Awareness Month in April.
For more information contact:
Director of Communications
lgarretson [at] viacenters [dot] org
Director of Advancement
nthomas [at] viacenters [dot] org