Building Strong Organizations

Harbor Island 2

Growth Through Opportunity - Enhancing Employment, Safety and Lives

Thursday, November 2
2:00 PM - 3:00 PM
Location: Harbor Island 2

Target Audience: Professionals

Growth Through Opportunity (GTO) is a highly unique and innovative employment training model. Throughout a 16-week training program GTO uniforms individuals 18 years of age and older with an intellectual and developmental disability (I/DD) alongside local first responders. GTO partners with public safety agencies to provide a safe and effective hands-on training environment with the goal of enhancing individual's employability and overall quality of life.

The Growth Through Opportunity model is truly a two way street. First responders and individuals with I/DD simultaneously learn from one another which enhances professional and personal development, empathy, understanding, and safety for all. The program promotes a holistic approach and places much emphasis on physical fitness and overall health. Enhanced physical fitness improves cardiovascular health, reduces job fatigue, aids in a restful night's sleep, and builds much needed confidence to succeed in life. Our uniformed "GTO Cadet" participants learn valuable job, life, and social skills within sheriff, fire, and police departments; enhancing employability upon completion!

GTO is a forward thinking and effective training model that can be replicated across the country. Conference attendees will learn valuable tools and proven methods on how to establish relationships with local first responders and how to implement programs similar to the GTO program in their community. GTO is currently partnering with The Arc's Pathways to Justice initiative and seeking funding sources to combine our efforts.

Learning Objectives:

Travis L. Akins

President and CEO
Growth Through Opportunity (GTO)
Roanoke, Virginia

Travis Akins is the President and CEO of Growth Through Opportunity (GTO) founded in Roanoke, Virginia. Travis is a recently retired law enforcement officer with 23 years experience working in the criminal justice profession. Travis has been a featured speaker at several Project Lifesaver International Conferences (Orlando and Las Vegas) and the National Down Syndrome Society's Inaugural Employment Conference (Washington DC). He is an advisor to the National Center on Criminal Justice & Disability and a member of the Virginia Public Safety Workgroup that developed the critical autism training curriculum for first responders. Travis' GTO organization received the 2017 NDSS Champion of Change - Organization of the Year award on Capital Hill, the 2016 Harvard Kennedy School Innovations in American Government "Bright Ideas" award and the 2015 American Red Cross Local Hero Award.

"Every day is an opportunity to change a life!"


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Leigh Ann Davis

Director of Criminal Justice Initiatives
The Arc
Washington DC, District of Columbia

Leigh Ann Davis M.S.S.W., M.P.A. is Director of Criminal Justice Initiatives at The Arc and oversees The Arc's National Center on Criminal Justice and Disability® (NCCJD). For over 20 years Ms. Davis has served as The Arc's subject matter expert on criminal justice and I/DD issues authoring numerous publications related to both victim and defendant issues and presenting nationally and internationally on a broad range of criminal justice-related topics (such as law enforcement training, alternatives to sentencing, child victims and sex offense issues). The culmination of her work resulted in the establishment of NCCJD in 2013. Her mission is two-fold: 1) To sustain and expand the work of NCCJD primarily through The Arc's chapter network, and 2) To fully equip people with I/DD throughout the country to educate criminal justice/legal professionals in powerful ways that change misinformed attitudes and beliefs.


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Ariel Simms

Criminal Justice Attorney Fellow
The Arc
Washington, District of Columbia

Ariel Simms is the Criminal Justice Attorney Fellow for The Arc's National Center on Criminal Justice & Disability (NCCJD). In this role, she advocates for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities who become entangled in the criminal justice system as victims, suspects, defendants, witnesses or incarcerated persons. She completed her Juris Doctor degree at Harvard Law School and has a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and French from Saginaw Valley State University. Prior to law school, Ariel spent two years working as a Mental Health Counselor in an inpatient psychiatric unit of a hospital. Ariel has worked on disability rights issues both in the United States and abroad, including in the realms of healthcare policy, human rights and criminal justice. Ariel has a passion for social justice reform, especially in the realms of legal capacity, supported decision-making, mass incarceration, conditions of confinement and policing.


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Growth Through Opportunity - Enhancing Employment, Safety and Lives


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