A Hand-in-Glove Fit: New Horizons Executive Director & VersAbility Board of Directors

His roots are in education. So is his heart.

Casey Roberts is the Executive Director of New Horizons Regional Education Centers, the largest of nine regional centers in the Commonwealth of Virginia in both size and scope of service. He also serves as Vice Chair of the Board of Directors for VersAbility Resources, a community partner with New Horizons for its newest workforce development program, Future of Work. Students enrolled in Future of Work’s welding cohort attend New Horizons twice a week for nighttime classes while simultaneously receiving support from VersAbility’s Job Coaches.   

“It’s a natural fit,” Roberts said. “At New Horizons, we have experience working with students with disabilities. We have the equipment, lab space, and instructors; it has become a hand-in-glove type partnership.”

Roberts hails from a family of educators, starting with his great-great-grandmother, Mary Todd Park, among the first African Americans in Surry County, Virginia, to teach formerly enslaved people how to read and write. She, in turn, taught her husband (Goodman Brown), enabling him to become one of the first African American men to serve as a delegate in the Virginia General Assembly after the Civil War. Both of his parents and grandmother were also educators.

“I wanted to be a military pilot,” Roberts said. “The one thing I was never going to become was an educator!”

Yet after completing Air Force JROTC in high school and Corps of Cadets at Virginia Tech, Roberts realized he had a knack for instruction. “I had experience instructing cadets both in high school and college and discovered I was generally good with teaching high school students,” he said. “When you’ve been trained to be a leader, you automatically acquire the skill set of influence and how to guide and manage a process, whether through teaching, delivering instruction or designing curriculums.”

Roberts holds a bachelor’s in history with a minor in leadership studies from Virginia Tech and a master’s in curriculum and instruction from Regent University. He earned an education specialist degree in educational leadership and administration from The George Washington University, where he is nearing completion of a doctorate in educational administration and policy studies.

He started with Hampton City Schools, where he served as a social studies teacher. By age 30, Roberts was appointed principal at Smithfield High School. During the summer of 2018, he accepted his current position at New Horizons Regional Education Centers.

“I may not be fighting on the frontlines or be deployed around the world flying fighter jets and defending freedom,” he said. “But I’m helping to educate and develop the next generation, and that mission is worthwhile.”

When you’ve been trained to be a leader, you automatically acquire the skill set of influence and how to guide and manage a process, whether through teaching, delivering instruction or designing curriculums.

New Horizons trains and educates students of all ages from the six Greater Peninsula School Divisions. Many of those students are juniors and seniors seeking to earn a ready-to-learn entry-level credential for a skilled trade. Others earning college credit in high-level math and science to pursue a STEM-related career field will matriculate to a local or nationally prestigious university. Some students with Autism and intellectual and emotional disabilities receive community readiness skills training and credentialing. New Horizons is where many since 1965 have started their journey toward their dreams.

Roberts grew up just down the street from VersAbility Resources’ Hampton headquarters. Back then, he didn’t know the mission that today he terms “phenomenal.” VersAbility connects individuals with disabilities to dignity with a full and productive life of their choosing.

Roberts’ second cousin, Jana Bradby, affectionately called “Bae,” had a disability, and he watched her live well into her 50s, far longer than what doctors indicated.

“She had a heart of gold,” he said. “She was an integral part of our family, and everyone loved her to death. I was raised to treat everybody with kindness and respect. And from my perspective, her disability made her unique, and we loved her just the way she was.”

When Roberts was asked to join VersAbility’s volunteer Board, he saw it as an opportunity to connect the dots. He advocates for the organization on various Hampton Roads committees and councils he sits on, noting, “VersAbility Resources is a key leader in many regional discussions and serves as a resource for many and a pathway to success.”

Roberts is married and has two children, an 11-year-old daughter and a 5-year-old son. He’s a huge Star Trek fan (“Trekkie”), in addition to hobbies that include reading historical biographies, cooking Italian and Indian foods and traveling. He has visited several countries and regions and looks forward to another trip to Trinidad and Tobago this summer, the native country of his wife’s family.

Towuanna Porter Brannon: A President With a Purpose

Towuanna Porter Brannon realized early in life that if you don’t work, you don’t eat.

The President of Virginia Peninsula Community College (VPCC) who serves on the Board of Directors for VersAbility Resources was born in Brooklyn, the daughter of a single mother from Jamaica who modeled to her children that achieving resiliency starts with education.

“You could always get lucky like my grandmother who won the Jamaican lottery,” Porter Brannon said. “That was wild and wonderful, but even then, if you don’t know what to do with the money, you lose it! That guidance meant that education is the only absolute to change your life. It ensures continuous improvements for the generations who come after you. My family grew up sacrificing any comfort in order to pursue advanced education.”

Porter Brannon’s mother immigrated to the United States at 19, graduated from college late in life and opened up a bakery that evolved into a thriving catering business and restaurant in New York City. Among the lessons she passed to her daughter: Never be afraid to do the things that can positively change your life. Take a risk on yourself.

Porter Brannon earned undergraduate and graduate degrees from St. John’s University and a doctorate from Fordham University. Early in her career, she resigned from a Fortune 500 company, resulting in a significant pay decrease, to teach information technology to faculty at St. John’s. Working on Wall Street didn’t appeal to her. Advancing in higher education did after growing up in a family she describes as the working poor. They had a home and food but went without health insurance, meaning no preventative care. Porter Brannon never saw a dentist as a kid, and dinners weren’t overly healthy. The family did not take vacations. Porter Brannon held her first job at 8 years old.

“My purpose has always been to provide opportunities for folks who grew up the way I did,” she said.

Porter Brannon counts herself lucky for the teachers and counselors, positive influencers, who not only encouraged her, they showed her a path to success. “I realized as an adult, not everybody has that. It would be difficult to manage life’s adult challenges if you did not have the kind of guidance and the social capital that I had. I knew that a better life was possible.”

In her early career as an academic advisor, it was gratifying for Porter Brannon to know she was impacting the lives of every one of the 300 students in her caseload. Every new career position she’s held since has been about expanding that ability to teach others how education can be a pathway out of poverty. Before becoming the ninth president at VPCC in 2021, she was Vice President of Student Services at Mitchell Community College in North Carolina. That position reinforced how critical earning a credential, skill or degree is for certain students to survive.

“If a job didn’t work out for me, in the back of my mind I knew I could go back and work for my mother,” Porter Brannon said. “These students don’t have that option. Strategically I started to pursue positions that would allow me to have the greatest impact possible. Now as a college president, I am in a position where I can have impact on an entire community.”

My purpose has always been to provide opportunities for folks who grew up the way I did.

Porter Brannon embraces the mission at VersAbility, which she said aligns with that of the community college. The Hampton nonprofit envisions a world where people with disabilities can live full and productive lives of their choosing.

“When you look at some of the work that VersAbility prepares its students to do, it’s very much aligned with our training programs,” she said. “They provide training for many of those entry-level positions that are needed and some of the frontline support services. The welding classes they offer through Future of Work at New Horizons are a gateway to getting someone into the workforce. You can remain in an entry-level position or those who are able can take advanced training courses to create stackable credentials to expand their skill set and marketability in the workplace.”

VersAbility’s commitment to what Porter Brannon refers to as “invisible communities” is also similar to the community college working with historically disadvantaged communities. “VersAbility is seeking to take a population of folks who have been historically underserved or just invisible and teach them skills related to being successfully independent,” Porter Brannon said.

Both the community college and VersAbility are integral to filling the talent shortage in the region, providing training to create the workforce needed by many of the in-demand industries, manufacturing and ship repair among them. “The work VersAbility does very much aligns with my purpose,” Porter Brannon said. “We’re both giving those communities an opportunity to be resilient.”

Under her leadership, VPCC has seen a 30% growth in workforce programs and dual enrollment. Porter Brannon is pleased that so many of the graduates who receive career and technical training through VPCC have chosen to live and work in the region. She is also proud that the college has expanded its footprint to include James City County. Another satellite center is being built in a developing section of Newport News.

Porter Brannon’s daughter, Rebecca, contributed to that rise, having recently completed VPCC’s dual enrollment program before transferring to work toward her undergraduate degree at George Mason University.

The family, which includes Porter Brannon’s husband, David, recently returned from a Christmas holiday in Europe where they celebrated Rebecca’s birthday and continued their tradition of visiting as many escape rooms as possible. That’s an easy hobby for Porter Brannon, a natural problem solver.

“Being a college president is only relevant to me because it increases my ability to have a broad impact on people who need it the most,” she said. “I’m in a position to improve the economic mobility of those  who might never know me, but their lives could be better because I had a seat at  the table and I was their advocate.”

VersAbility Board Chair Committed to Community Success

If you want to work, you should be able to. That’s a simple concept, yet for people with disabilities, it’s a challenge. VersAbility Resources strives to change that, believing that people with disabilities should lead full and productive lives of their choosing. 

The nonprofit’s mission resonates with Joycelyn Spight Roache, a longtime member of VersAbility’s Board of Directors and Chair of the Board for 2024. She represents Old Point National Bank, a 100-year-old, Hampton-headquartered company that has kept its same name for a century and is intentional in being a full partner in the growth and development of the Hampton Roads community. 

“We all work well together as a team to ensure that we serve our business community and meet their needs,” said Spight Roache, Senior Vice President and Credit Underwriter Manager. “I enjoy working with businesses and helping them determine how they can meet their goals — how to best structure their requests for financing and review their entire financial picture. I am in the background working with lenders to determine how we get the requests approved.” 

Spight Roache was born in Chicago and does not miss those cold temperatures, though is happy to return to her native city whenever she can. She earned her undergraduate degree in Business with a concentration in Finance while studying at Florida International University. A mentor encouraged her to work in banking, and for an admitted numbers geek, it ended up being a perfect fit. 

I enjoy working with businesses and helping them determine how they can meet their goals.

Spight Roache continued her education at Hampton University, completing a Master of Science in Management. She has been with Old Point for nearly 13 years. Old Point has been a longtime supportive sponsor of VersAbility events and that’s where Spight Roache met VersAbility CEO and President Kasia Grzelkowski, who invited her on a business tour.  

“I was fascinated by the work they were doing,” Spight Roache said. “I feel like every person, whether differently-abled or not, if they have the desire to work in this community, they should be able to do that. VersAbility provides some very strong outlets to that end.” 

In addition to the VersAbility Board, Spight Roache serves on the board for the Virginia Center for Inclusive Communities (VCIC) and only recently stepped down from the board of the Peninsula Industrial Finance Corporation. She won VCIC’s Humanitarian Award in 2021 and was named a Women in Business honoree by Inside Business in 2020. 

Spight Roache and her husband, Jon, often combine their love of music and travel and recently returned from Cuba where they attended the Havana Jazz Festival. They regularly travel to Tennessee to visit family and enjoy meeting friends in Napa Valley each year. They especially enjoyed meeting with the VersAbility team of workers at Pearl Harbor during their 2023 trip to the Hawaiian Islands.  

VersAbility Board Member Quentin Kidd is Home for Good at CNU

Quentin Kidd planned to stay at Christopher Newport University a few years at most.

Twenty-seven years later, the Executive Vice President and Provost has no intention of leaving.

He discovered early on what many come to realize later.

“Relationships matter, and I am in a place where I have some very good ones,” says Kidd, who also serves on the Board of Directors for VersAbility Resources, the Hampton nonprofit that supports people with disabilities leading productive and fulfilling lives of their choosing.

Albuquerque-born Kidd had earned a bachelor’s at the University of Arkansas followed by his master’s and doctorate at Texas Tech. When his wife, Holly, got a civil engineering position in Hampton Roads in 1997, he started as an assistant professor of political science at CNU.

“After a few years I was going to look around for a job at a bigger university,” he says. “I thought I needed to be in a major metropolitan area.”

Kidd’s mindset changed when he taught his first poli sci class that met weekly for three hours. Nineteen students were enrolled — 18 middle-aged women and one teenager. “I was the youngest person in the class, and I fell in love with that,” he says. Classes that long typically have a break in the middle. Kidd, an avid marathon runner at the time, recalls pulling out food from his backpack during those few minutes to replenish.

“By the third week I did the same thing and all the women pulled out their covered dishes,” he says. “They were all moms. Literally for the entire semester, we had a potluck during our break. I had never been in a situation where students and professors get to know each other. I had never been in a place where I had the ability to have those kinds of relationships.”

Today CNU looks and feels like a true college campus thanks to $1 billion in capital construction that began when former Congressman Paul Trible took over as president in 1996. Most students are full-time and residential, the CNU endowment is more than $54 million and the school consistently ranks in the top five among public regional universities in the South.

VersAbility provides opportunities and services for people who otherwise might struggle to have them.

Kidd and fellow CNU Professor Judy Wason went on to launch what is now known as The Wason Center for Civic Leadership. Initially, the center focused on polling, seeking to give Virginia a bigger voice in the national discussion. Given today’s digital tools that changed how we poll, the Wason Center evolved into a student program that fosters engagement in the public policy domain. “It has given me lots of opportunities to see and meet people and engage in the debate myself,” Kidd says. “It’s also a lesson in being open to taking opportunities as they come.”

Truth be told, Kidd didn’t grow up seeing himself in the academic realm. He dreamed of being a Green Beret after an early fascination with all things Rambo. College became more appealing after he enlisted in the military, completing basic training at age 17.

“After a couple of years of that and not becoming a Green Beret, I decided college was not such a bad thing,” he says.

Completing a general education elective his first semester at Texas Tech introduced him to an American government professor who became a mentor. Once he discovered political science, he never looked back, interning multiple places in Washington, D.C., before completing his PhD in 1998. CNU was his first job.

Three times he was named Professor of the Year and his numerous teaching honors include the Outstanding Faculty Award from the State Council of Higher Education.

As much as Kidd enjoyed the classroom, the move to administration as a Vice Provost, Dean and today Provost and Executive Vice President stemmed from a desire to create opportunities for the faculty that will elevate CNU at all levels.

“I embrace the responsibility of challenges and moving CNU forward in a constructive, positive way,” he says.

Kidd is in his second year on the VersAbility Resources Board of Directors. As a longtime admirer of the nonprofit’s work under its President and CEO Kasia Grzelkowski, it was an easy yes when she asked him to join the volunteer board. This mission also resonates with him.

“We’re only as good as a society as all of us can prosper in our own way,” he says. “VersAbility plays a role in that in a big way. VersAbility provides opportunities and services for people who otherwise might struggle to have them. That is an important responsibility we have as a society and VersAbility is doing its part.”

Kidd looks forward to the challenges that lie ahead for VersAbility, which serves more than 1,500 people with disabilities and their families. On tap: the emergence of AI and automation, which could lead to fewer job opportunities. “We have to address that,” he said. “That’s a challenge for corporate America and higher education, too. We need to think through it and strategize about how to best address that.”

In his free time, Kidd remains an avid runner, having completed two dozen marathons. He most enjoys running along the Noland Trail near his neighborhood.

VersAbility Resources Receives EPIC Grant from Chartway Promise Foundation

VersAbility Resources has been awarded a $5,000 grant from the Chartway Promise Foundation to support the nonprofit’s Early Prevention and Intervention for Children Program (EPIC) that supports young children with developmental delays and their parents.

The family-oriented program is for infants and toddlers under the age of 3 who live in Hampton and Newport News. VersAbility offers free screenings that assess a child’s needs. If a disability or delay is found, families and caregivers can receive support and training through tailored therapy programs to help children reach developmental milestones. A VersAbility service coordinator, assigned during the intake process, works closely with the family to create an individualized family service plan for the child.

“We’re grateful for the support from Chartway Promise Foundation, one of our many generous community partners,” said Kasia, Grzelkowski, President and CEO of VersAbility. “The funds to the EPIC program help children reach their full potential so they can be successful in school, work and life.”

Chartway Promise Foundation is the charitable arm of Chartway Credit Union.

“Chartway Promise Foundation strengthens the communities we serve by partnering with companion charities like VersAbility,” said Christine Wilson, President of Chartway Promise Foundation. “That’s why we’re honored to make a difference right here in Hampton – bringing joy, hope and smiles to children through this partnership.”

VersAbility Resources supports people with disabilities in leading productive and fulfilling lives of their choosing.

Phillips Energy Donates Nearly $1,500 to VersAbility Resources from Giving Tuesday Fundraiser

The community got pumped up and Phillips Energy gave. Literally.

VersAbility Resources is the recipient of $1,424.23 proceeds from a Giving Tuesday fundraiser organized by Phillips Energy.

Giving Tuesday, a global generosity movement, is held annually the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, which most recently fell on Nov. 28, 2023. Phillips Energy designated the Hampton nonprofit that supports people with disabilities to lead full and productive lives of their choosing as its designated beneficiary on that day. The energy company, with locations in Gloucester, Mathews and New Kent counties, donated 10% of sales from its public gas station near Gloucester Point to the fundraiser.

All funds will go toward VersAbility’s programs that serve more than 1,500 with disabilities and their families in areas that include early childhood, student services, day support, residential and employment.

“We’re grateful to our new community partner, Phillips Energy, for its outstanding efforts on Giving Tuesday that not only raised money but also awareness about our mission to support people with disabilities,” said Joe Harrow, Chief Development Officer at VersAbility. “All of us at VersAbility appreciate the Phillips Energy family for their thoughtfulness and salute everything they do to improve our shared community.”

Phillips Energy is a Virginia provider of premium heating oil, propane, autogas, on- and off-road diesel, eco-friendly alternate fuels, gasoline and marine fuels, and more.

“It’s always been important to Phillips Energy to support the local organizations in the community,” said Elizabeth McCormick, Vice President of Phillips Energy, a family-run company founded by her grandfather in 1946. “Thank you to everyone who took the time to fuel up on Giving Tuesday at our Gloucester gas station. We’re inspired by all that VersAbility Resources does for people with disabilities. We are proud to support such an important mission.”

A Few of Our Favorite Things from VersAbility Resources

Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens
Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens
Brown paper packages tied up with strings
These are a few of my favorite things

We’re in the thick of the holiday season, cause for us to share a few of our favorite things from the past year as we bid adieu to 2023!

A woman wearing a black apron stands behind a table of plants in plastic pods.

We love our Able Acres Market Garden, three raised beds of young vegetable plants and edible flowers created by adults with disabilities in our day support program who share an interest in gardening and plants. The veggies grown are donated to the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank and THRIVE Peninsula. Several from VersAbility also enjoyed their regular Thursday outings at the Peninsula Farmers Market held at the Jewish Community Center in Newport News, where they join the Super Local Food Project booth, encouraging community members to start their own garden by offering young plants and seeds.

A person wearing a welding helmet welds a piece of metal.

We love expanding our reach so that people with disabilities can explore career fields of their choosing and work jobs they enjoy. Our Future of Work program provides wraparound support services to facilitate people with disabilities successfully completing certification, training and apprenticeship programs to expand their occupational opportunities in high-demand industries. A new training center lets people with disabilities prepare for a future in the evolving field of information technology. We partnered with new businesses to grow our Supported Employment program that contributes to the economy by offering meaningful jobs to people with disabilities right here in our community. Through our Government Contract work, we expanded our U.S. Air Force contract to create new jobs for people with disabilities across the nation.

A woman wearing a black suit dances on a dance floor in front of a band

We love the results of our two signature fundraisers, the Ability Am Golf Tournament last spring and the Havana Nights Gala in the fall. Raising over $150,000 through these two events allows us to do more on behalf of people with disabilities, helping them lead full and productive lives of their choosing. We’re grateful for Phillips Energy designating us as its charity of choice for Giving Tuesday, and we are grateful to Tradition’s Brewing in partnership with WYDaily/The Tide for naming VersAbility its first beneficiary nonprofit for its new series Tides Brews and Good News.

A young blind boy steps out of an airplane accompanied by a woman while a man takes their picture

We love the independence we’ve been able to foster for people with disabilities thanks to a program we call Project Independence. Our goal is to equip people with disabilities to make independent choices and navigate the community with confidence.

A woman smiles while a man serves food on her plate at a banquet.

We love our community! Over delicious Thanksgiving fare, we shared the joy and fellowship of being together at our annual luncheon for the individuals with disabilities we serve. In 2023, we really felt the embrace of the local community and appreciate being named Nonprofit of the Year by Coastal Virginia magazine.

And Your Nonprofit of the Year Award Goes to . . . VersAbility Resources

Coastal Virginia Magazine named VersAbility Resources its Nonprofit of the Year in 2023, an award recognizing a nonprofit that makes a positive difference in the region.

VersAbility serves more than 1,500 individuals and their families through its mission that supports people with disabilities living full lives of their choosing.

“Our selection team was particularly impressed by this Hampton-based organization’s efforts to support people with disabilities in leading productive and fulfilling lives as well as their extensive work with employers and community partners during a time of critical need for workforce development,” said Leona Baker, Editor-in-Chief of Coastal Virginia Magazine.

VersAbility lives this mission through its many programs, many of which relate to employment. VersAbility is a leader in federal contracting for people with disabilities. The nonprofit partners with the U.S. Navy and Air Force to employ people with disabilities around the nation. Additionally, VersAbility is the prime contractor for ship provisioning services for the Navy at eight locations around the globe, which amounts to more than 300 jobs for people with disabilities. VersAbility also prepares students for life after high school and the transition to employment through programs that include soft skills training, mentoring and internships with community employers. Local businesses benefit from hiring people with disabilities, partnerships made possible thanks to VersAbility’s Supported Employment program. VersAbility employees regularly receive commendations for their exemplary work.

VersAbility provides support services to adults from the 10 counties on the Middle Peninsula/Northern Neck at the Gloucester-based Lewis B. Puller Center, the region’s only day support center for people with disabilities

A graphic promoting VersAbility as seen in Coastal Virginia Magazine

Future of Work, among the newer VersAbility programs, offers career opportunities to what is regarded as the greatest untapped talent pool in the nation — people with disabilities. Future of Work offers welding, culinary arts, information technology, and medical assisting certification training while also addressing barriers to employment for people with disabilities by developing wraparound support services.

VersAbility’s Early Prevention and Intervention for Children program assists infants and toddlers with developmental delays. These services are provided for any child living in Hampton and Newport News under the age of 3 and include tailored an individualized therapy programs to ensure each child reaches his or her full potential.

VersAbility’s Project Independence program offers personalized life skills classes and opportunities to help underserved adults and seniors with disabilities reach their highest level of independence and community engagement. Virtual Reality simulation rooms help train people with disabilities for various real-life scenarios while surrounded by caring and compassionate support staff in a safe environment.

VersAbility operates eight safe, supportive homes for people with disabilities throughout Hampton, Newport News, and York County that consistently receive exceptional ratings by the Virginia Department of Health. Staff, nurses, and dieticians are on-site 24/7/365, providing the support needed to ensure people with disabilities live independently within the community.

From the Nomination
“In this post-pandemic world, we read headlines every day about employers struggling to find and retain their workforce. VersAbility Resources serves people with disabilities in a myriad of ways—infants, children, students, adults of all ages as well as their families—but the nonprofit is also serving the entire community by training a very capable workforce to fill many of the vacancies that employers need filled in order to both survive and thrive.”

Panda Express Neighborhood Fundraiser Supports VersAbility Resources on Nov. 17

More orange chicken, please!

Feast on your favorite Asian cuisine at Panda Express in Hampton on Friday, Nov. 17, 2023, and you not only will receive delicious food, you’ll also be supporting a neighborhood fundraiser on behalf of VersAbility Resources, the nonprofit that serves more than 1,500 people with disabilities and their families.

The promotion is valid at Panda Express at 2031 Coliseum Drive in Hampton only between the hours of 5-9 p.m.

Place an order online or on the Panda Express app using the unique promotion code 356569. If ordering in person or using the drive-thru, you must show a paper or digital copy of the code.  During the four-hour promo window, VersAbility will receive 20% of all proceeds from Panda Express sales at the location.

VersAbility envisions a world where people with disabilities enjoy dignified, productive lives of their choosing as fully accepted members of society and supports that mission through early childhood, day support, residential, and multiple employment programs.

VersAbility Resources Exceeds $94K at Signature Fundraiser

VersAbility Resources raised a total of $94,093 at its 16th annual Gala presented by Old Point National Bank held Oct. 20, 2023, at the City Center Marriott in Newport News.

A woman wearing a blue dress smiles and waves from behind a podium.

The funds raised exceeded totals from the last three years to support the nonprofit’s mission to empower people with disabilities to lead productive and fulfilling lives of their choosing.

A man in a suit and a man in a blue shirt smile with their arms around each other's shoulders.

“We’re grateful to everyone who had a role in making our signature fundraiser a special evening,” said Kasia Grzelkowski, President and CEO of the Hampton nonprofit. “Everything raised goes toward our mission of creating diverse opportunities for people with disabilities.”

A group of three women and one man wearing formal attire pose in front of their table and smile.

The evening called Havana Nights included a silent auction with donations from a variety of Hampton Roads businesses, a buffet dinner, casino games and a raffle. The Original Rhondels provided live music with a full seven-piece band. Guests were introduced to a graduate of VersAbility’s Future of Work program who is now prepared to enter the workforce as a welder. Future of Work offers career training, certifications, and wraparound support services for people with disabilities in high-demand career fields.

A man wearing a hat receives a piece of money while a woman wearing a red dress stands behind him.

VersAbility serves more than 1,500 people and their families with disabilities with programs in early childhood, student services, day support and residential. A diverse range of employment programs help people with disabilities find meaningful work.

Phillips Energy to Support VersAbility Resources on Giving Tuesday

Phillips Energy has named VersAbility Resources the recipient of its Giving Tuesday fundraiser this year.

Giving Tuesday, on Nov. 28, 2023, encourages charities, families, businesses and individuals to follow the post-Thanksgiving shopping blitz with efforts to help local communities.

Phillips Energy will donate 10% of sales from its public gas station near Gloucester Point – 2586 George Washington Memorial Highway in Hayes – to the nonprofit.

“We’re inspired by the mission of VersAbility Resources,” said Elizabeth McCormick, Vice President, Phillips Energy. “They operate a number of valuable programs, including several that create job opportunities for people with disabilities. Adults with disabilities participating in VersAbility Resources employment programs earn millions in wages and benefits annually – a win for them and the businesses they serve as well as the local economy.”

VersAbility Resources supports people with disabilities in leading productive and fulfilling lives of their choosing. Headquartered in Hampton, VersAbility operates the Lewis B. Puller Center in Gloucester, which provides day support services to nearly 20 adults with disabilities from the 10 counties making up Virginia’s Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck. The Puller Center Day Support program has a strong focus on building independence and confidence while expanding soft skills and promoting community engagement initiatives for people with disabilities.

VersAbility is a leader in federal contracts that employs people with disabilities and boasts a Supported Employment Program that provides job opportunities in the Hampton Roads community and surrounding region. More than 1,547 people with disabilities and their families benefit from the services offered by VersAbility.

“We’re grateful for Phillips Energy’s commitment to support our meaningful work that helps people with disabilities strive toward independence and a fulfilling life,” said Joe Harrow, Chief Development Officer at VersAbility. “Phillips Energy is a family business with a heart for giving, a true model of a community steward in every sense of the word.”

Phillips Energy, with locations in Gloucester, Mathews and New Kent Counties, is a Tidewater, Virginia provider of premium heating oil, propane, autogas, on- and off-road diesel, eco-friendly alternate fuels, gasoline and marine fuels, and more.

Over the years, Phillips Energy’s #GivingTuesday philanthropy efforts have supported the Bread for Life Community Food Pantry, the Alzheimer’s Association, The Samaritan Group, the Laurel Shelter, the Gloucester Housing Partnership and the Gloucester Mathews Humane Society. Phillips Energy donated $1,500 of proceeds to the House That Small Business Built, a Habitat for Humanity Peninsula and Greater Williamsburg project that will be complete later this year in Charles City.

VersAbility Resources Expanding Services for People with Disabilities in New Gloucester Location

To better serve the communities of the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck, VersAbility Resources announced this week it is relocating its Day Support services to 6738 Main Street in Gloucester.  The new site is only minutes away from the current Puller Center location and will provide a more welcoming atmosphere for program participants.

VersAbility Resources began operating the Lewis B. Puller Center in 2001 to provide long-term employment, training, and day support services for adults with disabilities.  Reneé Rose, COO at VersAbilty commented, “The service needs at this location have shifted over the years.  We no longer provide onsite employment, partly because of the pandemic. What VersAbility continues to provide is day support services, with a strong focus on more robust community engagement activities.”

“We are excited that the new location will allow us to enhance and expand our services for people of all abilities and their families,” said Kasia Grzelkowski, President and CEO. “This significant investment in the future of services marks a new beginning for those we serve in the Middle Peninsula and Northern Neck communities.”

VersAbility is a leading provider of comprehensive services for people with disabilities of all ages. Headquartered in Hampton, the nonprofit provides early childhood, residential, day support, and diverse employment programs throughout Hampton Roads and beyond.

VersAbility Volunteer Named a Wawa Virginia Local Hero

Smiling faces.

That’s what warms Danny Lloyd when he volunteers with VersAbility Resources.

Danny is a recent recipient of the Wawa Virginia Local Hero Award, which donated $1,000 toward VersAbility’s mission of helping people with disabilities enjoy dignified, productive lives of their choosing.

Danny Lloyd showing his Wawa Virginia Hero Award

Danny is disabled and his wife, Lara Zawacki, is the Grant Manager at the nonprofit. Both are passionate about sustainable agriculture and started the Super Local Food Project 11 years ago to connect farmers and the food they harvest with the Hampton Roads community.

You’ll find Danny at the Peninsula Farmers Market held on Thursdays at the Jewish Community Center in Newport News where he volunteers alongside several of the adults in VersAbility’s Day Support program. Program participants grow vegetables in their own market garden on the grounds of VersAbility’s Hampton headquarters.

Danny helped start what today is known as the Able Acres Market Garden, which includes three raised beds with either veggies or edible flowers. While most of the produce grown is donated to the Virginia Peninsula Foodbank and THRIVE Peninsula, other young plants are taken to the Super Local Food Project booth at the farmers market to encourage community members to take them home to start their own gardens. Donations are appreciated for the plants. Danny facilitates the community engagement activity, one of many enrichment opportunities for people with disabilities that VersAbility offers.

Two people hold up red Wawa clappers in a Wawa store

“It’s wonderful because I can see what a difference this makes in these people’s lives,” Danny says. “I Iook at it as my way of giving back.”

Danny is sensitive to people with disabilities comprising one of the largest underserved segments of our population. Roughly 61 million Americans live with a disability, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Yet people with disabilities are capable with potential to do most, if not all, the same things that people without an impairment can do.

“They’re an underserved part of the community,” Danny says. “They’re not ignorant to their situation.”

Working with VersAbility introduced Danny to what he calls a “very caring, loving world.” It’s an authentic world where, he says, humanity comes in and brings perspective. “I’m happy to be able to volunteer for them/ Nothing is more rewarding than seeing smiles on their faces.”

Danny Lloyd poses with his Wawa Virginia Hero award in a Wawa store surrounded by VersAbility members

The Arc of Greater Williamsburg and VersAbility Resources Hosting Candidate Forum for the 69, 70 & 71 House of Delegates Districts and 23 & 24 Senate Districts

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Virtual Candidate Forum – House of Delegates Districts 69,70 & 71 and Senate Districts 23 & 24


23 October 6-7:30 pm




Chad Green, Shelly Simmons, Matt Waters, Michael Bartley, Jessica Anderson, Danny Diggs & Monty Mason


The Arc of Greater Williamsburg and VersAbility Resources will be hosting a Virtual Candidate Forum, inviting all area candidates for the Virginia House of Delegates and Senate on the ballot for the 2023 General Election.

This nonpartisan event will focus on creating an open, informative space for all individuals, families, and care providers in the area to hear candidates share their own thoughts on ensuring A Life Like Yours for Virginians with Developmental Disabilities.

This event is free and open to the public. Candidates may be contacted independently post-event with interview or comment requests.

The Arc of Greater Williamsburg and VersAbility Resources, promote and protect the human rights of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and actively support their full inclusion and participation in the community throughout their lifetimes. Our organizations are nonpartisan, 501(c)(3) organizations; we do not endorse political parties or candidates.


Pumpkins & Lots More at Gift Market on Oct. 12, 19, 26 & Nov. 2

Join VersAbility Resources at the Peninsula Fall Home & Gift Market on The Green at the Marketplace at Tech Center on four consecutive Thursdays this fall — Oct. 12, 19, 26 and Nov. 2, 2023.

Hours for each of the markets are 10 a.m. until 2 p.m. The Marketplace at Tech Center is located at 12090 Jefferson Ave., in Newport News. Whole Foods is among the many businesses located there.

Explore the diverse range of exhibitors showcasing one-of-a-kind crafts perfect for home décor and gifts. VersAbility will host a pumpkin patch event that will include pumpkins for donations, children’s games, costume contests, candy apples and more.

VersAbility helps ensure people with disabilities enjoy dignified, productive lives of their choosing. All donations for the pumpkins will benefit the nonprofit’s Able Acres Market Garden program, led primarily by adults with disabilities. Individuals in the nonprofit’s Day Support program will be part of the four markets as part of the community engagement aspect of the program.

VersAbility Receives EPIC Grant from Virginia Natural Gas

Now we’re cooking – and operating – with gas!

VersAbility Resources is pleased to announce it recently received a $5,000 grant from Virginia Natural Gas to support the Early Prevention and Intervention Children’s Program (EPIC).

EPIC is a family-centered program that provides information, support for families and free developmental screenings for any child under the age of 3 living in Hampton and Newport News with intellectual and developmental delays. Staff work with families to develop an Individualized Family Service Plan based on the both the family and child’s needs and preferences to ensure the child reaches his or her full potential and the family has the resources necessary to support their child every step of the way.

Virginia Natural Gas is committed to providing communities with clean, safe, reliable and affordable energy for today and tomorrow. Its charitable giving program takes pride in its legacy as one of Virginia’s oldest corporations and aspires to “be a citizen wherever we serve.”

VersAbility remains committed to ensuring people with disabilities enjoy dignified, productive lives of their choosing. The nonprofit is a leading provider of comprehensive services for people with disabilities of all ages. VersAbility provides early childhood, residential, day support and diverse employment programs throughout Hampton Roads and beyond.

Order Your Next Pizza from Papa John’s to Support VersAbility Resources

Enjoy awesome pizza from Papa John’s and support a nonprofit with a mission of making sure people with disabilities live full and productive lives of their choosing.

The Dollars for Dough fundraiser supports VersAbility Resources and couldn’t be easier. Order your pizza online from any one of the 27 participating Papa John’s locations in Hampton Roads and apply the promo code VERSABILITY at checkout. Orders must be place at papajohns.com or via the chain’s mobile app.

By remembering to apply the promo code, 20% of every order will benefit VersAbility Resources. The promotion works whether your order is delivery or carryout. Headquartered in Hampton, VersAbility provides early childhood, residential, day support and diverse employment programs throughout Hampton Roads and beyond.

VersAbility Receives Grant from Sentara Health to Support Project Independence

VersAbility Resources received a $3,000 grant from Sentara Health toward its Project Independence program that provides support, skill development, tools and resources to help underserved adults reach their highest level of independence.

The grant funds will allow VersAbility to expand the program offerings by creating inclusive community events that nurture self-determination, independence, sense of belonging and authentic community integration. Specifically, this grant will support the nonprofit’s Able Acres Market Garden.

VersAbility remains committed to ensuring people with disabilities enjoy dignified, productive lives of their choosing. To help fulfill that mission, the team started its own market garden, Able Acres in May 2023.

Able Acres Market Garden is primarily led by adults with disabilities attending Day Support programs.

Three raised beds are filled with young vegetable plants and edible flowers. The adults in VersAbility’s Day Support programs who have identified an interest in gardening and plants completed the initial planting and are responsible for sowing and harvesting.

Participants in the program engage with the community at area events, including farmers markets.

People with disabilities are at an increased risk of displacement from the community as they are overlooked and left out of community engagement opportunities. That’s why the engagement Able Acres provides at the weekly seasonal market is a powerful vehicle for acceptance and behavioral change.

The mission of Sentara Health’s grant program called Sentara Cares is to advance health equity and ensure that all members of our communities have access to the resources they need to live their healthiest and most fulfilling lives.

VersAbility is a leading provider of comprehensive services for people with disabilities of all ages. VersAbility provides early childhood, residential, day support and diverse employment programs throughout Hampton Roads and beyond.

VersAbility Staffers Newly Trained Mental Health First Aid Trainers

JJ Byrd and Lara Zawacki hold a new certification as staff members at VersAbility Resources and it’s one they are qualified to teach others.

Byrd and Zawacki are certified in Mental Health First Aid Training under a program administered by the National Council for Mental Wellbeing. Just as CPR assists an individual experiencing a heart attack, Mental Health First Aid assists someone experiencing a mental health challenge or crisis.

“Some of the biggest goals are to eliminate stigmatism, to provide holistic approaches and self-help,” Byrd said.

Thanks to their training, Byrd and Zawacki plan to teach VersAbility’s Direct Support Professionals and other staffers what they learned about disabilities that include autism, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia and the signs to look for during a crisis.

The training teaches how to respond depending on the presenting behavior.

“The main goal is listening to the person and let them know that someone cares,” Byrd said. “Then it can evolve into a conversation about resources they can use. It’s very much about community and medical resources. There are no diagnoses made.”

The evidence-based programs from the Council are designed for adults, teens, caregivers, veterans, law enforcement, EMS personnel, school faculty and more. More than 2.6 million people are trained to help their peers, neighbors, colleagues and friends in a campaign touted as #BeTheDifference.

Byrd said after rolling out Mental Health First Aid to the nonprofit’s staff later this summer, ideally they would expand the training to external groups.

Join VersAbility for Summer Fun


Mark your Calendars for some Summer Fun while Supporting People of all Abilities!

VersAbility Resources has partnered with WYDaily and Tradition Brewing for their new beer series called Tide Brews & Good News. During the months of July, August, and September, $1.00 of every Tropical Blonde Ale sold in the Tradition taproom will be donated to VersAbility, supporting our mission and people of all abilities.

Join us on Friday, July 21st from 5-8 p.m. for the Tropical Blonde Ale Release Party at Tradition Brewing, located in City Center, Newport News at 700 Thimble Shoals Blvd. During the event there will be live music inside, a food truck outside, Tide corn hole, a VersAbility tent with information and swag, games, and more fun! Bring your friends and family for a fun night out while also supporting people of all abilities!

Questions about this event? Contact Keltie Bransford at kbransford@versability.org.

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