CHESTERFIELDCOUNTY, VA — Today, Chesterfield County public safety and general servicesdepartments kicked off the inaugural 16-week Growth Through Opportunity, orGTO, cadet academy, providing five adults with intellectual and developmentaldisabilities the opportunity to learn job skills from county employees. Thegoal of the academy is to enhance safety and understanding among the GTO cadetsand first responders, and to help cadets develop transferable knowledge, skillsand abilities to earn competitive employment upon completion of the program.This is the first GTO Cadet academy in the Richmond region.
In concert withthe Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, GTO providesadults who have autism, down syndrome, cerebral palsy, traumatic brain injuryand other unique challenges an opportunity to gain valuable job skills andsocial experience. The five individuals participating in the academy are allfrom Chesterfield and will train alongside members of the county’s Sheriff’sOffice and Police, Fire and Emergency Medical Services and General Servicesdepartments.
“Chesterfield'sPublic Safety Community, Police, Sheriff, Fire and EMS, remain engaged in ourcommunity every day through a number of programs and initiatives as we valuethose relationships,” Sheriff Karl Leonard said. “That is why we are veryexcited about this joint endeavor and the positive impact that the GTO programwill have on these cadets. The cadets will get a one-of-a-kind opportunity tointeract with public safety that, in turn, will empower them long afterthey graduate and hopefully prepare them for gainful employment when theyleave.
GTO was foundedin November 2014 by Travis Akins, a 23-year veteran working in the criminaljustice system in a variety of law enforcement capacities. He and his team workwith each cadet to cater the volunteer experience specifically to theirinterest and goals. The unique GTO Cadets program is endorsed by the NationalSheriffs’ Association, National Down Syndrome Society, and the ARC of theUnited States, and was recently highlighted by the U.S. Department of Justice.GTO was the recipient of a 2017 HARVARD Kennedy School Innovations & BrightIdeas award and recognized on Capitol Hill as the Champion of Change —Organization of the Year in 2017. GTO currently partners with 30 public safetyagencies across Virginia and Minnesota with a goal of expanding nationwide overthe next few years.