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Setting up those with disabilities for success: 'With training and love anything is possible'

Posted at 10:17 AM, Oct 07, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-07 18:26:36-04

RICHMOND, Va. — On-the-job training is a chance for new employees to strengthen their skills. For DeAngelo Thomas, this hands-on approach has always been out of reach. As a child, he was diagnosed with autism. Now he's a 30-year-old adult living with intellectual disabilities.

DeAngelo’s dad Jon said his son was not expected to flourish.

“He is a bit shy but he is a wonderful kid,” Jon said. “He is always looking to help and contribute where he can.”

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Jon found an outlet at SOAR 365.

“They have worked with DeAngelo on a number of different programs and worked to find the one that actually worked for him,” Jon said.

SOAR 365 opens doors for people, like DeAngelo, who were always on the outside looking in.

Chris Martin, who works with SOAR 365, says people like DeAngelo just need a chance.

“Just because they have a disability doesn’t mean they don’t have skills or don’t have what it takes to work in their office,” Martin said. “It warms my heart every day. I don’t think any of us realize how much potential any of us have but especially people with disabilities.”

One group Soar 365 has teamed with is Tech for Troops. The Henrico-based non-profit provides refurbished computers to veterans.

DeAngelo’s job is to deconstruct donated computers a few hours a week.

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SOAR 365 job coach Leo Castro said in less than two months his client is blossoming.

“DeAngelo is great. He’s come a long way,” Leo said. “We had to dig deep and discover his interests. Providing the access like this for DeAngelo I think has planted a seed for him for the future.”

Tech for Troop’s Executive Director Mark Casper welcomed DeAngelo with open arms.

“What is it worth? All the gold in the world,” Casper said. “It does the heart good. I call it soul-satisfying.”

Casper said company CEOs should not dismiss hiring people with disabilities.

“If we’re not going forward and helping the community as a whole then we’re not moving forward. Then we’re not doing the right thing we were called to do,” he said.

Coach Leo Castro said exposure in the workplace has helped DeAngelo grow on the inside too.

“That is one element I’ve seen improved,” Castro said. “His problem-solving skills and his abilities to communicate and advocate when he needs help. Something a month ago he was struggling with. With training and love and compassion, anything is possible.”

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Equipped with new knowledge, DeAngelo is hoping to apply his tools in a career in computers. Seeing his son blossom offers a glimmer of hope for Jon Thomas.

“He is really confident. He is becoming a better thinker as well. I’m impressed,” Jon said. “It has always been a dream to have my son follow in my footsteps. It is a dream I almost let go of.”

It is hands-on training helping DeAngelo Thomas SOAR through life.

October is National Disability Employment Awareness Month. Click here for more information on the SOAR 365 workforce development program.

Greg McQuade features local heroes in a weekly “Heroes Among Us” segment. Watch Greg’s reports Thursdays on CBS News at 6 or here on WTVR.com. If you would like to nominate someone to be featured on “Heroes Among Us,” click here to email heroes@wtvr.com.

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