Corey Altice, a former student at William Byrd High School, has graduated from the Growth Through Opportunity (GTO) Cadet Program sponsored by the Roanoke City Police Department. Graduation ceremonies for the third GTO graduating class were held on December 22.
The GTO program is designed “for young adults with unique challenges to gain valuable social experience and job skills by volunteering for the police department.” The program aims to enhance the employability of these students and help them maintain their independence.
The purpose of the GTO program, initiated by Officer Travis Akins, provides job training for individuals with disabilities and introduces law enforcement officers to the world of those with special needs. Opportunities for special needs adults for employment or support after they graduate from high school are often limited.
Akins developed the program, which was launched in 2014, after working to train police on how to deal with people with autism in emergency situations and taking part in autism awareness campaigns. He wanted to do more and came up with the GTO volunteer program for special needs adults interested in law enforcement.
Each GTO cadet is given his/her own uniform and can volunteer at the department for up to 12 hours per week with the police, Roanoke Fire-EMS, and the Sheriff’s Office. The GTO program works with each cadet candidate and their families to adapt the volunteer experience specifically for their interests and goals.
The acclaimed GTO Cadet program has caught on throughout the Roanoke Valley and beyond.
The John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University recognized the City of Roanoke’s GTO Cadet Program as part of its 2017 Bright Ideas initiative, which honors “innovative programs from around the country who are striving to improve services, solve problems, and work on behalf of citizens.”