STEPHENS CITY — When Vicki Robertson’s daughter, who has Down syndrome, was deciding what she wanted to do after high school, a light bulb clicked in Robertson’s head.
She said she began to understand just how limited the post-school choices were for those with disabilities. She said she knew other people would be in the same boat, so she wanted to have a place they could come to discover their passions and how to pursue those.
And then I Can 2 was born.
Operating out of an old church at 5321 Mulberry St. in Stephens City, I Can 2 is a new nonprofit organization that works to educate, employ and empower those who are 16 and older with disabilities.
“We train them in their skill and let them explore,” Robertson said. “Once they’re trained, they’ll get a certificate. They can stay on then and work here and we’ll help them market whatever skills they’ve learned. Then they can go on to develop their own business or work for someone else and we’ll support that.”
The facility features work spaces for many different types of jobs attendees have shown interest in, including photography, art, simple woodworking, laundry services, floral design and more.
The organization’s space also includes a storefront on Main Street that will feature “something old, something new, and something made just for you.” The “old” will be in the form of antiques while the “new” will be new items. And the “something made just for you” will be items made by I Can 2 participants.
The store front is focused on allowing participants to showcase their talents but to also help raise funds for the programs, which will feature live as well as virtual skill-training sessions.
One priority, Robertson said, is to let attendees figure out what makes them happy.
“We want to have a person-centered approach where we find what they love to do. Then we find ways to take what they love and create a marketable product or service,” she said. “We’ve seen people with disabilities and we watch them do the things they love. And we want to give them the opportunity to explore that and do what they love for a living. Why can’t they be photographers or singers or artists? They can be those things, too.”
I Can 2 will partner with the community to help attendees perfect their craft. For example, Robertson said if someone is working on floral design, they would work to partner with a local florist.
The programs are “person-centered” and based on working together.
“We want them to learn how to be good good co-workers and how to work together as a team,” Robertson said.
Robertson said it’s exciting to see folks’ faces light up when they discover what they’re passionate about or finding out what kind of work makes them happy.
“How many of us got to make choices about what we wanted to do when we grew up? If you watch them, you’ll see the things they love,” she said. “So, we want them to choose.”