Agency Q&A: SOAR365

United Way works with 40+ local and regional nonprofit agencies to tackle each of our nine Steps to SuccessGet to know these agencies and learn about their partnership with United Way. We invited John Walker, President and CEO of SOAR365, to tell us about his work.
Tell us about your current role and your professional background.

I have served as the President & CEO of SOAR365 for the past three years. We are a Richmond-based not-for-profit company created in 1954 by area families who were determined to find a better way of caring for their loved ones with disabilities. Since then, we have grown so that we now employ about 400 individuals, including over 200 individuals with disabilities.

Prior to joining SOAR365, I had a long career in the corporate world working for companies like Honeywell, Procter & Gamble, Crestar Bank and AMF Bowling. Most recently, I was CEO of QubicaAMF Bowling Worldwide, which is the global market leader in the manufacturing and sales of bowling equipment. I feel very fortunate to be able to spend this part of my career working for an organization like SOAR365, which helps individuals and families with needs in our community.

What is SOAR365’s mission?

Our wide range of programs and services are designed for individuals and families who are coping with the daily “real world” challenges of living with a disability. We have a profound impact on the over 1,300 individuals and families we serve each year.

For example:

  • Newborns and toddlers, along with their family, are participating in specialized pediatric therapy sessions in their homes.
  • Teens and adults are developing their social, behavioral, physical and cognitive skills.
  • Families are getting a much-needed break from the sometimes overwhelming responsibilities of being a caregiver, while their loved ones are attending fun and enriching weekend and summer camp programs.
  • Over 200 men and women are employed in jobs, where they earn both a paycheck and the self-respect of being employed.

Our Mission states: “In partnership with families, SOAR365 creates life-fulfilling opportunities for individuals with disabilities.”

What do early intervention programs for infants and toddlers look like? What is the process for detecting developmental disabilities in young children?

Early Intervention services are available to children with developmental delays, from birth up to 3 years of age. Services are provided in the home and/or community settings, where the child typically spends his or her day. When a child learns in a setting where he is most familiar and comfortable, he is more receptive to activities that stimulate learning. Families are an integral part of each therapy session. Therapists teach the family how to help their child practice and master skills.

Developmental delay is detected through standardized testing. A team of professionals uses a multidisciplinary assessment of all areas of development to create goals and determine developmentally-appropriate interventions.

How does early detection of a disability increase the chances of a student’s success in kindergarten?

According to analysis by the Early Childhood Outcomes Center, over 75% of children who participate in early intervention nationwide show greater-than-expected growth in knowledge and skills, social relationships, and preparation for kindergarten.

Children who receive early instruction can make larger gains in general academic achievement. These children are more prepared to learn reading, math and writing when entering kindergarten. Academic readiness is related to social and emotional competence, which translates into social success with five-year-old peers. Finally, these children demonstrate increased skills in areas such as problem-solving and attention.

What are the signs of a disability parents should look for? How can parents know when to seek support?

Signs include delay or a difference in development compared to other children your child’s age. The delay or difference can be in one or more of the following areas:

  • Thinking, learning and playing;
  • Moving, seeing and hearing;
  • Understanding and using sounds, gestures and words;
  • Developing relationships;
  • Self-help skills like feeding or dressing

A child with a diagnosed condition that may likely cause a developmental delay include: genetic disorders, such as Down syndrome; cleft lip and/or palate; Neonatal Intensive Care Nursery stay of greater than or equal to 28 days; Autism Spectrum Disorder; vision and/or hearing loss.

You know your child better than anyone. If you are concerned, don’t wait. Speak with your child’s pediatrician or contact the Infant and Toddler Connection of Virginia at (800) 234-1448 for a free multidisciplinary assessment of your child.

What do you think is the biggest value United Way brings to this issue?

United Way and SOAR365 have partnered to bring early intervention services to families throughout central Virginia for eleven years. The funding provided by United Way has helped us serve over 2,500 children and families including 465 children last year. However, United Way’s support goes beyond just providing financial support. They also help make families throughout the region aware of the availability of the services we provide. Many families facing a new challenge do not know where to turn and United Way helps guide them to sources of help.

More information:
Related News

United Way recently announced funding for SOAR365’s new location on Staples Mill Road. The new location will provide care for approximately 150 individuals and families previously served by A Grace Place, which closed in March. Learn more.