Before graduating from the MPA program, every cohort of Mason’s Northern Virginia Public Service Fellows completes a capstone project that puts the theories learned in the classroom to work in the public sphere. In spring 2013, PIA’s ninth cohort addressed an issue with immediate, local impact: the closure of Fairfax County’s Northern Virginia Training Center (NVTC), which provides housing and support for 136 intellectually and developmentally disabled individuals.
For this cohort, the reality of diminishing budgets added an extra challenge when they investigated a complex issue facing Northern Virginia.
Following a multiyear investigation, the Commonwealth of Virginia determined to close four of its five residential training centers for those with intellectual and developmental disabilities. NVTC, located off Braddock Road in Fairfax County, is tagged to close in June 2015 with the expectation that surrounding Community Service Boards (CSBs) will provide group homes with comparable care and engagement for their new residents.
Under the guidance of Tony Griffin, Mason’s practitioner-in-residence and former Fairfax County executive, the 11 capstone students (many of them current employees of local municipal governments) interviewed local leaders grappling with the challenges that arise with the facility’s closure. Some students explored the possible uses for the property once it is vacated. Another group looked at the state’s obligation to provide services and housing for NVTC residents. A third group investigated the employment options available for disabled individuals in the surrounding area. The financial implications of any actions weigh heavily on decision makers.
“I look at this as a field exercise,” Griffin says. “I looked for a project that was worthwhile and challenging… something relevant, current, and of potential use to the CSBs. The students use what they learned in the program, along with their professional experience to address a challenging topic.”
While grappling with the complexities of this problem, Griffin says, “the students learned that all the jurisdictions have similar issues and concerns. The interesting aspect of this particular topic is that the entire community has a stake in it.”
February 24, 2014