Soaring with SOAR365

May 26, 2023
Volunteers help the Richmond nonprofit provide life-fulfilling opportunities for those with disabilities

By Madyson Fitzgerald, '23, Communications Assistant for Equity & Community

Outside of SOAR365 on Saunders Avenue, children climb, jump, and run through the all-inclusive, accessible playground sitting beside the main facility. PARK365, one of the most popular extensions of SOAR365, is specifically designed to accommodate those with disabilities, but is open to all.

Inside the Saunders facility — one of four located around the Greater Richmond Region — a group of adults listen to a song from Disney’s Frozen. Another group of youth, most of whom are on vacation for spring break, engage in a variety of fun activities, designed to build skills, with staff.

Administrative offices can be found toward the back of the building, where Andrea Siebentritt works. Today, a tricycle sits to the side of her desk, waiting to be sold at the Ladybug Fund Winetasting & Silent Auction. Siebentritt, SOAR365’s communications and public relations manager, has worked there for about three years, joining the organization just before the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I joined SOAR365 in the Community Engagement department, and then transitioned to the newly developed Marketing and Communications department, and the fit just couldn't be better,” she said.

More than 60 years ago, SOAR365 was founded to provide life-fulfilling opportunities for those with disabilities. The organization connects people with disabilities to business opportunities, child and adult day programs, pediatric therapy, summer camp, and much more.

Today, they’re continuing to assist people of all ages throughout the community. Through their connection with the University of Richmond — and the Bonner Center for Civic Engagement — they’ve been able to connect with students and faculty to further their reach.

Michelle Thomson, SOAR365’s vice president of community engagement, said the organization was founded by families who wanted better for their loved ones, starting out as a true volunteer organization. 

“We really cannot accomplish our mission — particularly striving for best-in-class services —without our volunteer help,” Thomson said.

The Bonner Center for Civic Engagement has partnered with SOAR365 for years, connecting the organization to students, faculty, and staff at the University of Richmond. Volunteerism, Siebentritt said, is a huge part of the organization.

“I think the neat thing about our volunteer program is that it ranges from, ‘I've got a couple hours on a Saturday, I want to help’ to ‘I really like art, and I've been a teacher before, so I'd like to do something like once a week with programming,’” Siebentritt explained. SOAR365 offers a wide variety of volunteer opportunities for groups or individuals, as well as internships for students.

Sara Hanson, associate professor of marketing and director of the Spider Business Hub, was able to engage with SOAR365 in her classroom, she said. She created an assignment for her students to work with SOAR365 and develop a digital marketing strategy for the organization to use.

“I know that their resources are limited,,” Hanson said. “So, I was happy that we were able to provide some ideas.”

“The interns and students [volunteering] are so qualified and so bright and so engaged,” Siebentritt said. “They make such a difference in a short amount of time that we’re always sad to see them go.”