Nest Academy Members during adaptive rock climbing

Q+A with Nest Academy RVA Operations Director Casey Harris

Nearing high school graduation often warrants many questions: Should you go to college? Should you dive head-first into the workforce? No matter the answers to these questions, most people have the privilege of making these decisions on their own.

For Christopher Carroll’s family, however, post-high school plans weren’t so easily conceived.

Christopher has Cerebral Palsy, is nonverbal, legally blind and deaf and has physical limitations. A year before graduation, parents Nora and Tom began searching for adult programs for their son and found few.

Nora became increasingly aware of the lack of resources for young adults like Christopher and wanted to make a change. In 2020, she founded Nest Academy RVA.

Nest Academy RVA is a program-based nonprofit that aims to create and promote inspirational learning environments for young adults with complex disabilities. Over the past three years, the organization has been working tirelessly to fill a void in the special needs community.

We had the pleasure of chatting with Nest Academy Operations Director Casey Harris to learn more about the impactful work the organization is doing for the community.

How are Nest Academy’s programs structured?

We have three main components: Thriving Together, Adaptive Adventures and Circle of Support.

Our Thriving Together program offers STEM activities, pet therapy, music therapy, art and more. We offer Adaptive Adventures, where students can enjoy participating in community activities like boating, fishing and bowling with accessibility accommodations. Circle of Support is all about providing the families and caregivers of our students with a community of support. This program is important because the parents deserve resources and support as well.

What’s the most challenging part of running Nest Academy?

As a new organization, raising awareness of Nest requires a lot of attention. We don’t have a permanent location, so without a permanent footprint, we are constantly seeking ways to share our program. We’ve learned that word of mouth seems to be the most effective method.

Additionally, due to the complexity of the members, providing one-on-one assistance is costly; therefore, we require members to bring their own aides. This requires us to keep our program fees low, and we use community support to fund the balance. Volunteer resources are critical, as well as finding investors who want to support this underserved population.

What’s the most fulfilling part of running Nest Academy?

Our biggest inspiration is enriching the lives of individuals with the work that we do. We love the ability to bring siblings and families together through activities such as indoor rock climbing, boating, glassblowing, music, sports events and so much more.

Most importantly, we love seeing friendships develop over time. It is so rewarding.

What do you hope to see Nest Academy look like in the next five years?

Our members are counting on Nest to be a lifeline for many years to come, which is why sustainability is so important as an emerging nonprofit.

Our strategic plan includes doubling the current number of classes and volunteers. We also hope to provide more opportunities for family respite by finding a permanent home where we can grow and leverage other nonprofit organizations.

What words of support can you give to families currently seeking care for their special needs family members?

We’re here for you. Nest allows parents to find a network to learn and navigate the complex special needs world as it pertains to lifelong planning. So come see us.

You can support Nest Academy RVA by donating here. To enroll your loved one in Nest Academy, email nestacademyrva@gmail.com.

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