A Pathway to Success: Via of The Lehigh Valley

By Jennifer LoConte

The word “Via” is Latin for road or pathway. Via of the Lehigh Valley supports individuals faced with certain challenges or obstacles to reach their own road to success. Originally started in 1954, Via was formed by a group of 13 families who had adult children with disabilities and were looking for a place for their children to belong. Clara Morrow, one of the original family members, went door-to-door soliciting funds for the organization, raising $10,000, which was an extraordinary amount of money for the 1950s. Years later, after merging with the Lehigh Valley Association of Rehabilitation Centers (LARC) and United Cerebral Palsy of the Lehigh Valley, Via grew significantly, expanding their services for all ages, from birth to retirement.

Via’s mission is to provide leadership, support, opportunities and resources for people with disabilities in order to be independent, productive and enjoy full lives within the community. According to their website, Via envisions a time when all people will have equal access to appropriate developmental and educational services, rich and meaningful relationships, a rewarding career and a satisfying retirement.

Lisa Walkiewicz, Vice President of Communications, says, “Via’s success is based on the achievements of the people we serve.” According to Via’s statistics, 250 children with developmental delays and disabilities receive services annually. Walkiewicz continues, “Early intervention programs can be crucial to reaching those important milestones in a young child’s life.” From infancy to age three, therapists work individually with a child at home or daycare facility. Parents and caregivers are encouraged to participate so that therapy continues in the home. Via does not see children ages three through eight, when individual school districts take over services for those with disabilities. Families can be referred by their county, however, and Walkiewicz says a simple phone call to Via is a good way to start the process.

Via is extremely proud of its’ Employment Services program. With a wide -variety of participating employers, an individual is matched with a job that fits his or her interests and skills. Pierpoint says, “Our goal is to help place folks in productive, self-sustaining long-term jobs.” Via works with businesses every step of the way to make both the employer and employee a success. Walkiewicz says, “A job coach assists with training the employee as long as necessary until eventually, only a check-in every few weeks is necessary.” Businesses such as restaurants, national department store chains, supermarkets, nursing homes, specialty stores, even greenhouses participate.  Martin Guitars, for example, has been involved with Via for the last 15 years.  In fact, three employees hired through Via’s employment program have just celebrated 10 years with the company. Via needs employers like these whose mission it is to employ people of all abilities and their willingness to diversify their workforce. Additionally, Via offers autism services, senior and retirement services, independent living, family and individual counseling and community mentoring.

As the population of the Lehigh Valley and surrounding areas continues to grow, Via’s community involvement does as well.  Northampton, Lehigh, Bucks and Monroe are some of the counties that Via covers. They also work with at least 10 school districts in order to help students with disabilities transition from high school to graduation. Walkiewicz says, “Although 95% of our operation is government-funded, it’s clearly not enough to cover all of the necessary programs and services we offer.” Fundraising events held throughout the year help to supplement Via’s resources. Upcoming events include  the Golf Classic on May 21st and the Lehigh Valley Health Network Marathon for Via (now in its 6th year) on Sept. 9th, which in addition to a marathon offers a half-marathon as well as a family fun walk.

Besides fundraising events, there are even more ways to get involved. Donating and/or buying quality merchandise at a Via thrift shop is a great way to help children and adults with disabilities. There are several stores located throughout the Lehigh Valley offering clothing, formal wear, furniture, household items, antiques and vintage collectibles. Or, holding a neighborhood or classroom clothing drive can get the entire family involved. Besides financial donations, volunteering is also a great way to become personally involved. (There are over 500 volunteers involved with the Via Marathon). For additional information on programs, services and fundraisers, visit www.vianet.org.

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