50 Faces of The Arc- Matthew

Matthew’s been described as a very dedicated employee at STEP Up, the Supported Training and Employment Program of The Arc of Loudoun that teaches vocational skills to adults with disabilities. Before joining STEP Up, Matthew graduated from The Aurora School (a school for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities ages 5-22 on Paxton Campus). After discovering Aurora, Matthew’s father Jim said he saw a tremendous difference in Matthew.

“I felt like I finally found a place with trained instructors who knew how to handle Matthew’s behavior,” he said. “Before attending Aurora, Matthew would become aggressive when he was given a demand, but now, after graduating from the school and joining STEP Up, his negative behavior has been slowly diminishing.”

Each day at Paxton, Matthew learns to be more independent. His main responsibility is cleaning the various buildings on campus, which he absolutely loves. Mary, his former STEP Up coordinator says,

“You knows he’s  [Matthew] working hard because you’ll hear the squeaking of the windows as he cleans them. He’s the best cleaner and most hard working employee you’ll ever meet. He doesn’t want to take a break until the job is done!”

With the support and training of both Aurora and STEP Up staff, Matthew was able to start working part time, where he cleans office spaces for two companies twice a week. Working as a part time employee gives Matthew more independence and freedom, which he enjoys. Matthew continues to learn more skills at STEP Up, such as time management, following lists, and increasing the duration of his work.

Sometimes while Matthew’s working, he likes to ‘script’ from game shows. (Scripting is a common occurrence among those with autism which involves repetitive reciting of lines from movies, tv shows, books, etc. and believed to be a coping mechanism). He quizzes all of The Arc office employees by asking them different questions and answers from the shows he watches. It’s like a fun game for him, and for the employees as well!  

One of Mary’s favorite things about Matthew is his affectionate gestures.

“Matthew is very sweet,” she states. “He doesn’t talk very much, but he’ll show he has a bond with you by coming over and squeezing your arms, giving you a thumbs up, or hugging you–always a highlight of my day.”

In the future, his supervisors and his dad, Jim, hope that Matthew will have a full time job where he can reach his maximum potential.

 

 

50 Faces of The Arc- Kendra

Kendra is a Board Certified Behavior Analyst at The Arc of Loudoun on Paxton Campus. She has been working for The Arc for eight-and-a-half years, where she started as an Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA) therapist at The Aurora School, a year-round day school for children with developmental disabilities; mainly autism. She initially heard about Aurora while searching for programs for her son, Cannon, to attend. After touring the school in 2008, Kendra was immediately impressed by the ABA therapy the instructors were practicing with the students. She was so impressed, in fact, that she moved her family to Loudoun County in the hopes that Cannon could one day attend Aurora. Although Cannon, now 17, would later attend public school, Kendra would begin her career as an ABA therapist at Aurora.

Kendra’s desire to become an ABA therapist grew after seeing how effective ABA therapy was for Cannon, who has autism.

“I knew I wanted to become a therapist and help children with the same needs,” she said.  

In her duties with The Arc, she is currently Clinical Director of the Paxton Advantage Behavior Clinic and a behavior consultant to students at The Aurora School, the preschool students at Open Door Learning Center, and the employees at STEP Up (a day support program that teaches vocational skills to adults with disabilities).

Seeing the progress the students and employees make is one of Kendra’s absolute favorite things about working at Paxton Campus.

“Through ABA therapy, I  have seen astronomical success in students who went from not communicating at all to being able to read text, sign words, and talk vocally!” she exclaimed.

She’s also witnessed students’ severe aggressive and self-injurious behavior decrease through ABA therapy. 

Later this year, Kendra will be there for the grand opening of the Advantage Behavior Clinic on Paxton Campus. The clinic will allow people, like Cannon, who may not have had the opportunity to attend schools like Aurora the chance to still get the support they need– whether that’s learning communication or social skills. Kendra is thrilled about opening the clinic, and one of her desires is to create a wraparound approach where the staff at The Arc can work together with the public school teachers and their after school activities to practice social skills with a variety of students. In addition, she hopes through this approach everyone will know the effectiveness of ABA therapy and how it works.

Without The Arc, Kendra believes families would be at a great loss. She explains how The Arc is filling a need in the community by helping children and adults with disabilities live “a life like yours.” Programs and workshops at The Arc like CBI (Community Based Instruction) and the new Pathways to Justice Training, allow people with disabilities the opportunity to interact with community members such as bus drivers, cashiers, or police officers. These programs greatly benefit both the individuals with disabilities along with the community members as they learn to interact with each other. Kendra explains the importance of all the programs at The Arc stating,

“I wish more people knew that we are able to fulfill the gaps in the community with more volunteers and more funding. If they fund it, we can do it. We’re willing to put in the hard work, we just need the resources.”

Within the next 50 years, Kendra hopes The Arc will expand its programs all while “doing what they do best” which is helping the community.

 

 

50 Faces of The Arc- Madison

Madison is an energetic student at The Aurora School, a year-round school for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. In the past five years since she’s been attending Aurora, Madison has learned academic skills, along with how to connect with people–whether it be with her peers or with staff. Maggie, Madison’s Applied Behavior Analysis Instructor, says,

“All the staff here know Madison. She’s very outgoing and makes friends with everybody! She’s one spit fire of a gal.”

Throughout her time at Aurora, Madison has learned general safety skills such as reading signs (like “danger”, “exit”, and “enter”) along with learning basic household chores, like doing laundry. Madison continues to learn other skills at Aurora, like how to advocate for herself.
Some of Madison’s favorite activities at Aurora include listening to her favorite band (O.A.R), playing on the tire swings, and socializing with the staff and students. Maggie says,

“I love Madison’s charisma, and her love for life! She’s very much herself all the time and we’ve really grown to have a great friendship.”

Maggie wishes more people knew how The Arc of Loudoun and Aurora provides students with different learning styles.

“The Arc gives children so many opportunities to learn,” she says. “More people should be able to see, in person, how much growth and progress our students make.”

 

50 Faces of The Arc- Drew

Drew is a hard-working employee at The Arc of Loudoun on Paxton Campus. He’s been a member of the STEP Up (Supported Training & Employment) Program for two years, which is a day support program that teaches vocational skills to adults with disabilities. He first discovered Paxton Campus after he and his mom attended the ALLY Advocacy Center’s Transition Series, a workshop that helps families with young adults with disabilities transition out of the public school system at age 22.

Drew, who has high-functioning autism, says he’s incredibly grateful for STEP Up, and is always excited to go to work every morning! He takes pride in his daily tasks, which range from changing light bulbs to mulching and mowing the 17-acre grounds of Paxton. Once his morning shift is over, Drew participates in STEP Up’s afternoon enrichment activities.

“I enjoy visits from Nic the therapy dog and taking field trips to places like the National Air and Space Museum,” he says. “But going to Top Golf is my personal favorite!”

Not only is Drew an employee at Paxton, he’s also an advocate for people with special needs. Since participating in The Arc’s self-advocacy and public speaking group Speak Up, Drew has learned how to advocate for himself. Last year, Drew and other members of Speak Up traveled to Richmond; where he had the opportunity to speak directly to state lawmakers about transportation and group homes for people with disabilities.

Drew says he’s also learned how to be safe in the community through programs like ALLY’s ‘PILE’ (Positive Interaction with Law Enforcement) initiative on campus. This program teaches law enforcement personnel how to interact and with people with disabilities. Drew explains that programs like these are one of the reasons why The Arc of Loudoun is important to him saying,

”Being here helps to keep me safe. I have special needs, I have high-functioning autism. There are a lot of people with special needs around here, and Paxton benefits the whole community!”

 

50 Faces of The Arc- Trish

Meet Trish Thomason, mom to 17-year-old Eric, a student at The Aurora School. Before her family moved from Colorado to Virginia, Trish researched different schools for Eric to attend, which is how she discovered The Arc of Loudoun and Aurora. Eric thrives in a smaller, inclusive, structured environment, so Aurora was the perfect fit for him. In the one and half years since Eric’s been attending Aurora, Trish has seen a huge improvement.

“His focusing and ability to do tasks has gotten much better,” she says. “He also has better self-regulation of his emotions. And he’s happy! There’s definitely been schools where he didn’t want to go at all, and that doesn’t happen now. He gets excited about different things happening at school every single day.”

Not only does Eric attend The Aurora School, he also participates in many of the events that The Arc of Loudoun on Paxon Campus holds for its members. He enjoys doing adaptive yoga, art classes, and he absolutely loves music therapy. Eric’s even volunteered at Paxton’s annual fundraising event, Shocktober. After graduating from Aurora, Trish hopes Eric will join STEP Up, a day support program that teaches vocational skills to adults with disabilities.

“He loves animals and wants a giraffe as a pet. I want to give him the opportunity to work with animals, even just once a week. And that can be a place that can meld his interests with something that can grow within The Arc or Paxton Campus family.”

Trish loves The Arc of Loudoun because of the people.

“The people and staff are my favorite thing!” she exclaims. “Eric doesn’t get to just deal with his staff, but with other people from different programs as well. This allows Eric, and all the students, more opportunities for a wider social network.” She says The Arc’s efforts to incorporate individuals into the community is huge. “And that’s what I like about it. I like that they’re taking steps to let our kids be involved in the community, as well as bringing the community in to appreciate what our kids do. I think that’s so important.”

Trish also believes it’s important to give back to an organization that has given her so much, which is why she volunteers once a week with STEP Up.

“Ever since Eric started, I’ve volunteered at every program he’s been at. I come whenever I have free time, it’s a way to give back to them. I think it’s important to be involved. I want my kid happy and safe and I’ll work with any program that’ll let that happen.”

In the future, Trish hopes that more people will know about The Arc.

“I need it. Everybody needs it. I don’t have to spend so much time researching what’s out there about my kid’s future. The Arc has taken so many of those steps [of researching] away from us, which allows us to spend more time with our kids.”

 

50 Faces of The Arc- Aidan

Aidan is an enthusiastic student at The Aurora School on Paxton Campus. His infectious laugh can often be heard resonating throughout the entire building! He’s extremely musical and is always asking when he can enjoy his favorite activity: playing his piano keyboard. However, before attending Aurora, this simple act of asking would’ve been impossible– since he could initially only communicate using three pictures. Today, after six years of instruction at Aurora, Aidan can use sign language, express his thoughts through the use of an iPad, read over 100 words, and is now learning to talk. As Aidan conquers his communication skills, he continues to learn countless new skills that will provide him the chance to thrive in the community with his peers and live a more independent life. Hailey, Aidan’s lead Applied Behavior Analyst Instructor explains the importance of Aurora,

“The Aurora School and The Arc of Loudoun provides young adults, like Aidan, the opportunity to learn and grow into their full potential. I wish more people knew about the amazing progress our students make using ABA (instructional methods), and how all of the Aurora staff are striving to provide our students with, ‘A Life Like Yours.’”

 

 

50 Faces of The Arc- Lauren

Meet Lauren. She works at Maggie’s Closet (named after the founder of Paxton Campus’ daughter, Margaret) a non-profit store located on Paxton Campus that provides free clothing and accessories for families in need. After one year of volunteering, Lauren was given the opportunity to work part-time at Maggie’s Closet through STEP Up; a program of The Arc of Loudoun on Paxton Campus that teaches vocational skills to adults with disabilities. Maggie’s Closet accepts shoppers by appointment only and features all sizes of quality, seasonal clothing. Lauren recently began taking on more responsibility; answering phone calls, and scheduling shopping visits. She greets each shopper with a smile when they arrive for their appointments.

Lauren says working at ‘Maggie’s’ has been an amazing experience,

“I have a lot more confidence talking to people now and have become more independent. I’ve learned skills that I’ve never learned before!”

Skills such as answering the phone and interacting with customers were challenging for Lauren at first, but now she’s able to do both tasks easily. In fact, she’d love to do more public speaking. Lauren says,“I’d like to be on TV or the news. Advocating and being able to talk at The White House about Paxton would be my dream!” Lauren especially enjoys meeting all the families who shop at Maggie’s,“I love seeing them smiling. It makes me happy knowing that I’m bringing happiness to all of the people who are shopping.”

Learn more about Maggie’s Closet here: www.paxtoncampus.org/maggies-closet

 

 

 

50 Faces of The Arc- Masih

Meet Masih, a bright and cheerful eight-year-old student at The Aurora School. Vanessa, his lead Applied Behavior Analysis instructor, has seen tremendous growth in Masih since the beginning of the school year in September. Before coming to Aurora, Masih struggled going to new places, but now he looks forward to visiting the public library or stopping by the grocery store. He continues to learn lifelong skills at Aurora: from learning to share with others, to washing his hands independently, to allowing peers to be physically near him– now, he’s always asking for hugs! Vanessa believes it’s important for kids who are on the autism spectrum, like Masih, to have the opportunity to attend schools like Aurora that provide different learning strategies for all types of students. Vanessa is extremely proud of Masih’s progress saying,

“I enjoy knowing and working with everyone at Paxton Campus, but what an honor to work closely with Masih…the skills he learns at Aurora he will keep for a lifetime.”