Eric Latcheran, 19, of Chantilly's Poplar Tree Estates community, is this year's Easter Seals ambassador. And Sunday afternoon at the new Sweetheart's restaurant in the Greenbriar Town Center, he held a fund-raiser for the organization.
ATTENDEES enjoyed chatting with each other and watching the Washington Redskins' victory on the big screen. They also bought raffle tickets and donated money to the cause and toward Eric's upcoming Easter Seals Walk With Me event in Fredericksburg.
"The funds keep Camp Easter Seals going, pay for children who can't afford to go and raise money for Easter Seals Virginia," said Eric's mom, Gina, an instructional assistant at Westfield High.
The camp is in New Castle, Va., outside Roanoke, and Eric went there each summer for 11 years. It provides intensive speech and/or language therapy to children, 8-17, whose disability affects their ability to communicate.
Eric, who has Down Syndrome, graduated from Chantilly High's work/study program in June 2005. Now, via the Davis Vocational Center in Falls Church, he's employed at the Fair Oaks Marriott.
He's learning housekeeping, laundry and kitchen jobs alongside the paid employees, while wearing the same uniform they do. On Mondays, he learns life skills at Davis, and Tuesday-Friday, he works at the hotel.
He's also involved in Project SUCCESS, which involves youth with and without disabilities in community service. And in his spare time, he participates in Special Olympics basketball, golf and bowling and loves to visit friends and relatives. Eric also enjoys music, dancing, concerts and art.
"I like swimming in a pool and going to cookouts," he added. His says Martina McBride is his favorite country singer and, when it comes to football, the Dallas Cowboys and Washington Redskins — especially quarterback Mark Brunell — are tops with him.
The speech camp has helped give Eric the tools to tackle and do well in so many activities, and participating in Easter Seals Virginia's fourth annual Walk With Me, Oct. 14, in Fredericksburg, is his way of giving back and helping others.
Last year, Easter Seals helped more than 45,000 people statewide, and Eric's official letter requesting financial donations for the walk stated that such tax-deductible contributions "will provide opportunities for people with disabilities to live with equality, dignity and increased independence."
Checks payable to Easter Seals may be mailed to: Eric Latcheran, 4444 Woods Edge Court, Chantilly, VA 20151-2410. For more information about Easter Seals, see www.walkwithme.org/easterseals. Eric likes participating in Easter Seals walks because "They're a lot of fun."
The Oct. 14 walk starts at 10 a.m. at Old Mill Park in Fredericksburg and passes leisurely through the Old Town area and many of the city's shops and restaurants.
"It's not a competitive walk," said Gina Latcheran. "It's more like a friendship walk for awareness and fun. And the event also includes breakfast, lunch and children's activities like a moonbounce — everything you can imagine at a little festival. And people who can't walk will be driven through Fredericksburg by a car dealership there."
At Sunday's fund-raiser at Sweetheart's, gifts were raffled off from local businesses including JJ's Hallmark, Bowl America, Milwaukee Custard, Manhattan Bagel and Fancy Nails, as well as Hartwood Winery in Fredericksburg and Daily Grind in Lorton.
"Everybody that comes here today helps my friends Stephen [Doane] and Neil [Gewanter] go to the camp," said Eric. His mom said it also enables friends Matt Repetski and Virginia Run's Amy Feuerberg to attend, as well.
University of Virginia senior Michaela Hagen, 21, a 2003 Westfield High grad, attended Sunday's event with her parents, plus another camp alumni, David Mears, 21, of Centreville. She plans to get a master's in education and become certified to teach special education.
"I started working with David in his classroom at Westfield in my senior year, as a volunteer," explained Hagen. "And now I'm a special-ed major and I substitute in the special-ed classes at Westfield whenever I'm home."
As for Sweetheart's owner David Ricks, he said he was happy to host the Easter Seals fund-raiser because "We're part of the community. It's a great organization, they're good people to work with and it's a worthwhile cause."