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River's Way & Bristol businesses helping provide workforce skills to those with special needs

May 14, 2019

[Source: Blake Lipton, WJHL] For 25 years, River's Way has been enabling people with special needs to make significant contributions to their community.

Businesses in downtown Bristol have been partnering with organizations to give these youth and adults critical tools to be successful.

"It's been a miracle, it really has," said Andrea, a River's Way participant.

Every Tuesday, for an hour and a half, you could find Andrea manning the floor at Studio 6 in downtown Bristol.

She is one of the many participants in River's Way downtown internships, geared toward people with special needs.

"I just love it, the friendliness, meeting new people," she said."Just to see the manequins, the way they get dressed, it's amazing."

What starts as a way to help young adults with special needs develop workforce skills, ends up also helping others see a different perspective of life.

"She's really filled ourhearts," said Suzy Griffin, owner of Studio 6.

"I like helping people," said Kandi, another River's Way participant.

At the Birthplace of Country Music Museum, you could find Kandi passing out flyers and helping patrons find exhibits.

"She has been just an enthusiastic, fresh breath of air for us here,"said Baylor Hall, Birthplace of Country Music Museum Manager.

"We like to get them placed in positions out in the community where they feel like they're doing something productive and where people in the community can see they have a lot more abilities than we give them credit for," said River's Way Executive Director Tom Hanlon.

Most businesses participatingare in a short walking distance from each other, but Hanlon hopes to soon expand into more places downtown.

"They love being with the people they are with," he said,"they see thesepeople in public and other settings other than their work setting and it just feels like they're more connected to the community and they feel like they are actually working and doing something productive."

River's Way just wrapped up its six-week internship program for the spring, but many of these young adults will be back in downtown Bristol this fall.