Life after high school can be a challenging and confusing time for many. Some are heading off to college while others are taking a gap year or learning a new trade. But what about graduates with disabilities? The Next Move Program steps in to guide them on the right path.
Founded in 2010, The Next Move Program seeks to help young adults with diverse needs in Virginia gain employment through unique internship opportunities. In 2013, CEO and Co-Founder Elizabeth Redford took over and expanded the program. Four years later, she started Tablespoons Bakery, a baking program where students take classes in the culinary arts and develop entrepreneurial skills.
We caught up with Redford to learn more about The Next Move Program and what’s next for the organization.
What’s The Next Move Program’s core mission?
Each day, our team works to combat the 70% unemployment rate for young adults with developmental disabilities here in Virginia. We tackle this crisis by facilitating guided-internship experiences within our own organization at Tablespoons Bakery and guided-externship experiences within other businesses like Altria, Wells Fargo, Quirk Hotel and the University of Richmond.
What is unique about our model is it is both endorsed by the Virginia Department of Education, and we are able to teach our students critical workplace readiness skills, all out in authentic community settings and not in an isolated school setting. Through this journey, we are also opening the door for more inclusive hiring practices at our partnership sites.
Can you characterize the extent of the problems you address locally?
Our programming provides vocational educational services to young adults with developmental disabilities, the majority of whom graduate only to sit at home after high school graduation. Our program gives our students and their families hope for the future. Through Tablespoons Bakery, we are also able to provide some limited supported employment offerings and hope to grow that offering.
What don’t most people realize or understand about young adults with disabilities and their journey towards employment?
Most people in the community do not realize how challenging it is for our students to find employment. They are often graduating with modified high school diplomas, which make them ineligible for countless entry level jobs in the community. They also need extra encouragement to develop appropriate workplace readiness and social skills. Our program is a structured educational model that can prepare them for the workplace and help them to get transferable job skills on their resumes.
What kind of work do volunteers do to help The Next Move Program?
Volunteers often help by volunteering in the classroom for various activities (e.g. mock interviews) and around our Bakery, as we are getting it ready to open (e.g. painting, landscaping, building furniture). We also tap into volunteer support for our community fundraisers to help our small team pull off each event. We have had more limited opportunities for volunteering with our team lately, due to the pandemic.
If $100,000 fell from the sky tomorrow, how would you spend it?
If $100,000 fell from the sky tomorrow, we would look to expand our teaching team by adding a full-time teacher and another part-time job coach. This would allow us to serve even more young adults annually.