Personality: Laura Coleman | Richmond Free Press

Laura Coleman knows firsthand the challenges of managing a disability and the need for a world that fully embraces and empowers those living with a disability.

As a child, Ms Coleman was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. She often sought to hide her conditions while navigating the obstacles they created in her upbringing and life.

However, when her daughter Abigail was diagnosed with Beckwidth-Wiedemann syndrome and primary ciliary dyskinesia in 2017, Ms Coleman began a new approach to caregiving and teaching.

In 2019, she reached out to the Next Move program, a nonprofit that partners with businesses to create guided internships and clerkship experiences for people with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 25. She believed the organization could help her daughter avoid the same challenges she faced, while learning to be proud of her unique strengths.

In addition to teaching young people job readiness, Next Move also offers social skills classes that help them build confidence, build relationships and prepare them for a more independent life, according to its website.

Impressed with the organization, Ms Coleman quickly joined its efforts and became chair of the board in 2021.

“The mission and future vision is something that resonates deeply with me,” Ms Coleman says when asked why she accepted the role in 2021. “Richmond is my community and I am proud to be a small part of an exceptional group that makes a difference in the lives of adults with disabilities.

As Chair of the Board, Ms. Coleman has focused on securing long-term funding to expand Next Move’s services and growth. The sheer number of ideas and potential goals, and the work and resources needed to bring them to fruition, is a challenge, but Coleman is resolute in her hopes for the future of Next Move.

Meeting the challenges of this goal and this challenge, thankfully, seem to share some of the same solutions, Ms. Coleman says. She stresses the importance of increasing community awareness of the nonprofit’s work and services, as well as establishing new internships and sources of funding.

“Their grassroots effort to really dig in and build community and network and get funding has been phenomenal,” Ms. Coleman says, “and I just wish they would expand their team, so they could offer more services and not have to worrying about the monthly bills they have to pay and being able to really give back to the community.

“When they can, like they do every day, it’s amazing.”

Ms. Coleman’s work with Next Move extends beyond her current role as Board Chair. She is also a co-founder of the Rise Employee Resource Group for Altria employees and families living with disabilities.

Rise partnered with Next Move in 2020 for a virtual job shadowing program with Richmond students, allowing the nonprofit organization to maintain its commitment to empowering its students with work readiness and skills social services that help them get and keep a job.

It’s this kind of opportunity that Ms. Coleman sees as key to Next Move’s role in the community. While she hopes to see more growth for the nonprofit in the future, her respect and admiration for the work done so far is clear.

“It’s a phenomenal organization that has really built something from the ground up and I wish we had more,” says Ms Coleman of Next Move’s work. “I see so much value in the community and wish they had a bigger team. They are small and mighty for everything they do.

Meet disability advocate and this week’s personality, Laura Coleman:

Volunteer position: Chairman of the Board, Next Move program.

Date and place of birth: June 28 at Fairfax.

Where I live now: Richmond.

Occupation: Senior Manager, Operations Logistics, Indirect Materials Purchasing.

Education: BA, Virginia Tech, and MBA, University of Richmond.

Family: Husband David, Abigail (5), Nicholas (9 months)

Founders of the Next Move program: Mary Townley and Elizabeth Redford.

Why I got involved in Next Move: I have a learning disability and have always tried to hide it. My daughter has two rare genetic conditions and she was my catalyst in reaching out for the next move. I don’t want her to face the same challenges as me and I want her to grow up proud of her unique strengths that make her special.

Why I accepted the position of Chairman of the Board of Directors: The mission and future vision is something that resonates deeply with me. Richmond is my community and I am proud to be part of an exceptional group making a difference in the lives of adults with disabilities.

Objective number one as Chairman of the Board: Secure long-term funding to enable future growth and expanded services.

Strategy to achieve the objectives:

• Increased monthly cookie club subscriptions

• Engage with the community to establish new internship programs and generate consistent revenue streams.

• Spread the word about this amazing organization!

Next Move challenge #1: Too many incredible ideas and goals, which require additional resources and funds.

How we plan to answer it: Raising funds through effective campaigning, the great RVA bake-off, cookie club, and educating the community about the importance of this non-profit organization.

Most important achievement: Opening of the Tablespoons Bakery in October 2021! This facility has created a central location to host internships, create jobs, expand services provided to students, interact with the community and “make” a difference one cookie at a time!

How Next Move reaches black and brown communities: Provide internship opportunities at Richmond Public Schools and partner with the YMCA.

Next Move partners with: Altria, Richmond Public Schools and Capital One.

Ways to get involved with Next Move: Join the cookie club! Support bakery tablespoons. I like to stop and pick up treats for my team on the way to work. (It’s a) great place to hang out on weekends and enjoy coffee and breakfast. It is a place where we celebrate the potential for achievement and success of young adults with developmental disabilities. Our baking program gives them the chance to do just that. It is located at 1701 Westover Hills Blvd. Donations are always an amazing, tax-deductible way to support as well.

Events to come: Our first “The Great RVA Bake-Off” will be November 19 from 12-2pm at 1707 Westover Hills Blvd. It’s like ‘The Great British Bake-Off’ on Netflix, but with local Richmond celebrities and our very own Tablespoons cookie crew. Tickets can be purchased on the website: and sponsorship opportunities are available. Or contact Suzanne Burns at [email protected]

How I start the day: Big morning hugs from my family.

A perfect day for me is: Eat my way through Richmond!

Something I love to do that most people would never imagine: clay shooting targets; my husband and I met on the Virginia Tech Clay Target team.

My friends describe me as: Patient, caring, fun.

At the top of my to-do list: Plan a trip! We love to travel and explore.

Best late night snack: Oreos.

The best thing my parents taught me: Caring about others.

Person who influenced me the most: My sophomore reading specialist. She was the only person besides my parents who believed that I could graduate from high school and (do) so much more. She showed that she believed in me and that changed my whole future.

Book that influenced me the most: “The Giving Tree” by Shel Silverstein.

What I’m currently reading: Reading time is limited, but I love a good podcast! “Crime Junkie Podcast” is my choice at the moment.

Next goal: To continue to grow and set a good example for my children by volunteering and giving back to the community.

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