On Wednesday night, Virginia Institute of Autism board members, families, and friends got their first look at the future home of the Center for Adolescent and Adult Autism Services (CAAAS) at 491 Hillsdale Drive in Charlottesville.
VIA President Ethan Long, Director of Finance & Administration Ed Gillaspie, and other personnel welcomed nearly 100 guests to an open house to discuss plans for the space and the expansion of services for teens and adults with autism. Gillaspie provided building tours throughout the evening, while Long and special-needs architect Cathy Purple Cherry spoke to the crowd about the benefits that new center will offer.
“We know that as people with autism age and graduate from high school, their opportunities for learning, for jobs, and for social connection diminish severely,” said Long. “VIA has been focused on finding solutions to that problem for a number of years.”
Long added: “As our programs have developed, they’ve grown beyond the capacity of our existing facilities. We needed to find a new home to provide these essential services.”
The building, which is currently occupied by The Center Charlottesville (formerly the Senior Center), will be transformed into a facility that will provide education, job training, social connection, and paid employment for teens and adults with autism.
CAAAS will provide a shared home both for VIA’s programs for school-aged young adults, and its Adult Services programming. The new facility will provide ample space for services and programs that will ease the transition to adulthood.
The second floor of CAAAS will feature expanded space for VIAble Ventures, a social impact program that develops small, sustainable businesses specifically tailored to create gainful jobs for adults with autism. VIAble Ventures is currently in the process of launching a candle-making enterprise that produces hand-made soy-wax candles for the local craft market and for internet sales.
Other spaces within the new building will serve as classrooms and flexible learning spaces where students can engage in school classes, and receive specialized instruction in job skills, life skills, and social skills. The building’s central location will provide VIA learners with easy access to the extended community through a bus line that stops right outside the front door.
“When we ask our families about their areas of biggest concern,” said Long, “very often the answer is: ‘What’s going to happen my child when I’m gone? Who is going to be there to take care of them?’ This Center will offer an answer, by providing a place for adults to continue to learn, to connect, and to belong over a long, meaningful lifetime.”
Architect Cathy Purple Cherry, who has dedicated her life to assisting individuals with disabilities in her family and beyond, spoke about her experiences supporting those with autism. She feels that CAAAS will be a tremendous asset to VIA and its families.
“What is important about this project is that we create a community for our kids,” Cherry said. “This new center is all about opportunities and activities that give them the skillset for learning and growth within the community. Employment and community hinge on core skills such as turn-taking, waiting, socialization, and greeting. These are things that our kids struggle with, and that this center will focus on.”
Press coverage of the new project has already started. Visit this page for more coverage and information about CAAAS.