Damien starts every day by milking a cow– that’s the predictable part of his day.

Once he heads to VIA Centers Lynchburg, he is never quite sure what the day will bring. Some days, he might start by directing traffic in the parking lot or by checking in with the rest of the organization’s leadership team. He views his primary role as doing whatever needs to be done, acting as a safety net for his staff who are working directly with students and adults.

Twenty-five years ago, Damien visited the United States for the first time from his home in Ireland. He came to work at a summer camp for kids and adults with disabilities, aged 5-75. He returned for a few summers until he was offered a full-time job. His experiences at that summer camp set him on the career path that would eventually lead him to Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center (BRAAC). BRAAC merged with VIA in January 2023.

While working as an autism specialist for a public school system, he was the case manager for several students who attended BRAAC in Roanoke. He was drawn to the atmosphere at BRAAC, where the staff was engaged and enthusiastic and students were making real measurable progress. Eventually, he left his position to start the Lynchburg BRAAC location. Damien has been with BRAAC, now VIA, for almost 12 years. He, along with just two other staff members, started the Lynchburg BRAAC location in July 2011. Two students started at the Lynchburg school its first day– one graduated two years ago and one is graduating this year.

For Damien, the most rewarding part of working at VIA is hearing stories from parents about the ways their lives have been impacted. One parent recently shared that going to the grocery store had always been an ordeal lasting several hours. They have reached a point where they can pop into the store for one thing in five minutes, which is life-changing. Another family shared that they are finally able to enjoy large family gatherings. These stories make all the hard work worthwhile.

He’s a big rugby fan (even though it’s a little harder to catch a game here in the US!) and has played with club teams in Roanoke, Lynchburg, and Charlottesville. When Damien isn’t at VIA, he is at his family’s home where they run a small farm raising and producing most of their own meat and dairy.