The Visions of Hope Training Program held its 6th Annual Intern Graduation and Hope 4 Autism Volunteer Recognition Monday morning at the Farmington Public Library.
“I want thank everybody who’s taken the time to come today to celebrate the interns that we have here and all of their hard work over the last year,” said Hope 4 Autism Executive Director Luann Honerkamp. “We are also here to celebrate our volunteers and all of the hard work that they have done to help us make sure that we can have the intern program, that our Dress 2 Impress Retail Shop and events run smoothly. Our mission statement is to empower individuals with autism through vocational and social opportunities.
“We are able to fill that mission by providing the work experience program that we have at Dress 2 Impress. That’s what all of our interns have been able to do. They’ve learned how to do different things at our store. They’re provided work experience so that hopefully when they graduate and get out into the world of work, they have a better advantage when they go into the workplace. They’re also learning skills even if they decide not to go into work. They’re learning skills that they could use to be able to go out and to volunteer in a community and be able to give back to be a part of our community.”
According to Honerkamp, who works hand-in-hand with Visions of Hope co-founder Jessica Harmon, the not-for-profit has graduated 59 interns since its inception.
“Our program began in 2016, and this year alone, we’ve given over 500 hours of instruction and support for this year’s interns,” she said. “Our interns are getting work experience, and even though it’s an unpaid internship, they’re able to use that to put on their resume, to go and say, ‘Yes, I did this at Dress 2 Impress, and I’m going to do this.’ We feel privileged to have the opportunity to form to the lives of our interns. Each one of them are so unique and so much fun to get to learn and to work with. It’s just been a really good year.”
Honerkamp read off the names of the six graduates and presented each with their diploma. This year’s intern graduates were
Harmon recognized the volunteers, Nora Lavella, Tina Louden, Doris Dennison, Shawn Smith, Maggie Himeles, Phyllis Hastings, Gavin Keen and Tammy Benoist.
Describing Benoist “as one of the most funniest,” Harmon said, “She always brings a smile and a laugh to my heart, but she helps me with the peer program to enrich the education of relationship skills. She helps me with the parents and guardians that come with the students. She’s a super help, but she is more than a volunteer. She’s someone I couldn’t live without.”
Asked to speak about her experience in the program, Benoist said, “I am a retired special education teacher. I retired in 2020 after 28 years, and something took me to Visions of Hope. I was looking for a pair of capris, and I decided to ask if they needed volunteers. They said, ‘Absolutely.’ Then they found out a little bit of my background, and they said, ‘Would you be willing to help with the interns?’ And I was like, ‘Absolutely.’ I just can’t imagine not doing this. It’s just amazing what they have down there. I plead to you to get the word out, because it’s an amazing mission that they’re doing down there with the interns, as well as the peers program.
“Last fall, Jessica was going to maybe be out a couple weeks, and they asked if I would fill in for the peers. I was a little hesitant because it’s every Monday evening. I said, ‘Well, I guess,’ and I started doing it — and I loved it. I looked forward to going to it on Monday nights. It was just so rewarding to work with the social coaches and to see how far that their young adults had went through the program. At the beginning, they couldn’t even hardly make a phone call, and by the end, they were making phone calls all the time. Just small baby steps, and it was absolutely awesome.”
Next, Harmon asked Lee Thurman to share a few words, saying, “He’s our treasurer on our board, but more than that, he’s way more than that. He also has two sons on the spectrum, and I met him a long time ago. God had that orchestrated.”
Thurman said, “I’m very impressed with the organization. I wish it had been around when my boys were coming up — it would have been a great asset. I’m very excited about some things coming on in the future that we’re looking at — the driving programs and other things — but it’s a very worthwhile organization. These ladies do a great job. I don’t think there’s anything they wouldn’t do, so I’m happy to be a part of it.”
“Our program began in 2016, and this year alone, we’ve given over 500 hours of instruction and support for this year’s interns.” – Luann Honerkamp, executive director
Kevin R. Jenkins is the managing editor of the Farmington Press and can be reached at 573-783-9667 or firstname.lastname@example.org