Growth Through Opportunity endorsed by national law enforcement group, expands to Lynchburg

Information on a Roanoke initiative that 10 News has covered from the start is now on the desk of every sheriff in America.

Growth Through Opportunity started at the Roanoke Police Department under the direction of then-Officer Travis Akins and former Police Chief Chris Perkins.

Now it's a full blown nonprofit, expanding to localities from 50 miles away, such as Lynchburg, to thousands of miles away from the Star City.

Brian Moreland is one of three Growth Through Opportunity cadets Sheriff Don Sloan welcomed as the Sheriff's Office implements the program in the Lynchburg area.    

After suffering a severe brain injury, Brian has struggled to find work.

“For employers to actually understand what you're going through is also difficult, because they have a hard time understanding certain things, so this program should be able to give me what I need to overcome those issues,” Brian said.

When his mother, Susan, first heard about how GTO gives cadets with unique challenges work and social skills alongside first responders, she knew the program was what her son needed.

“I think it's wonderful. He's very police-minded and I think he will enjoy being in this area of work,” Susan said.

Lynchburg is the most recent addition to the GTO family, and you could say the family tree is growing quickly.

“We've had a phenomenal last 90 days or so in the Growth Through Opportunity program,” said Akins.

Weeks ago, Akins marked a major milestone when he accepted an endorsement for the program from the National Sheriffs' Association at its annual conference.

“So what that means already is they have started to market our GTO cadet program to every single sheriff across the United States, so we have been inundated with requests,” said Akins.

“I think it will be a mainstream program once it makes its way across the country,” said Chief John Thompson, of the National Sheriffs' Association

Akins said the program has been moving along for the last three years and is now kicking into high gear.

“We want to be in every single community throughout this country,” he said.

While the calls are coming in from across the country, Lynchburg's expansion is proof there's still room for lives to be changed right here at home.

“We were ready to bring it to this part of Virginia. We've seen all the benefits in other parts of the state and now we want to see it here too,” said Didi Zaryczny, training coordinator for Lynchburg GTO.   

Already, Lynchburg families are touched by the opportunity to see their children experience something new.      

“I am very proud. I am so proud. This is like the day he graduated from college. My heart is just so happy,” Susan said.

The expansion in Lynchburg includes the Sheriff's Department, the Lynchburg Police Department, Liberty University Police and Blue Ridge Regional Jail.

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