Left: Intern Gena Gruber; center: Intern Horatio Zhang speaks with a UR employee; right: Intern Justin Wilborn with The Next Move Program co-founder Elizabeth Redford.

“What’s your favorite movie?”

“Do you have any pets?”

After welcoming their guests to a Meet & Greet on July 13, interns from The Next Move Program put into practice the social skills they have been learning this summer—shaking hands, offering their guest a drink, and making small talk. UR staff employees attended and spoke with each of the interns, who were learning how to start, hold, and end a conversation professionally.

The Next Move interns—Cameron Cunningham, Gena Gruber, Lee Parker, Justin Wilborn, and Horatio Zhang—are working in various UR departments all summer, while also learning social, financial, and business skills. The Next Move Program partners with local businesses to create guided internship experiences for young adults with disabilities. The program is in its third year at UR. Throughout the summer, the interns work in various departments on campus and take Next Move classes in space provided by Boatwright.

At the Meet & Greet, the interns made us name badges and offered us lemonade and tea. Each of the five interns started a conversation with their guests using questions they had practiced.

Gruber, who is interning at the UR Bookstore, asked me, “What’s your favorite movie?”

“The Little Mermaid,” I replied. “I like the singing. Do you like Disney movies?”

“Yes,” she answered. “Have you seen the live action Cinderella?” she asked, leading us into a conversation on a topic we both enjoyed discussing. After our chat, she shook my hand.

Gruber’s supervisor, Marie Martinette, Spidershop merchandiser in Bookstore Operations, noted, “Gena has shown great enthusiasm in all tasks that have been asked of her. Her cheerfulness in greeting each of her teammates by name every morning has taught me what can be accomplished with positive determination.”

The Next Move Program started as a pilot at a Richmond biotech company in 2010, where one of the company’s executives, whose own child had special needs, identified a need for job preparatory programs. In 2013, two special educators, Mary Townley, director of educational services and co-founder, and Elizabeth Redford, M.A.Ed., executive director and co-founder, were hired to expand the internship program, adding a daily classroom component. In December 2015, they spun Next Move Program off as a separate nonprofit. In additional to the University of Richmond, they also run programming at organizations like Wells Fargo, Quirk, Ledbury, The Broad, and The YMCA of Greater Richmond.

Lee Parker is currently working with Recreation & Wellness. Kelly Harris, associate director, operations for Recreation and Wellness, commented, “Even though the interns are only with us for a month, it is great to see their growth in independently completing assigned work… Lee brings a burst of energy and happiness to the building each day, and I enjoy talking with him about our shared love of golf!”

Cynthia McMillian, Manager of Member Service – Recreation and Wellness and Parker’s direct supervisor, said, “[Parker’s] job is to count all of the in-house rentable equipment—and he’ll definitely let us know quickly if any items are missing! He is such an inspiration to me. His smile and genuine excitement to be here makes what I thought was a tough day, a rewarding day. Although we may disagree on what insects we like the most—his being wasps and mine being butterflies—we both can agree his presence here brings out that contagious smile of his.”

Intern Horatio Zhang has worked at Boatwright Memorial Library, helping stuff mailers, pack boxes of book donations, and maintain library book shelves. His supervisor, Travis Smith, project manager for Library Facilities & Resource Sharing, said, “Working with these students has added another dimension to our day. This summer, not only has Horatio made our days a little more exciting, but so have the other students in Next Move.”

Larry Richmond, Jr., a gardener with University Facilities/Landscaping, supervises Justin Wilborn. “Justin is interested in landscaping. He has been taking horticulture classes in Chesterfield County. He’s been working on removing vines, new growth, pinecones, and sticks from the [garden] beds. He’s very enthusiastic and positive, so it’s really great to be around him. He has nicknames for everybody. He likes movies and actors and actresses, so if our personality or physical appearance reminds him of an actor, they get that nickname.”

UR provides job preparatory programs for other groups on campus as well, including the Faison Center. And expect to see more in the future: “We’re looking for more ways to help people from our community transition to the job world,” says Leigh McCullar, director of Human Resources Consulting.

Posted by: Sarah Busching, Human Resources