I felt a little rushed when I showed up for this interview. I had just left a photoshoot and the equipment was rattling around my car as I wound through the HumanKind campus. I had the number for the building but, I also knew that the facilities sprawled into several areas.
When I showed up at the Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center‘s Lynchburg facilities, the setting was much different than I expected.
Visiting the Blue Ridge Autism and Achievement Center
When you first walk into the building, it feels like you stepped into a living room. There was a couch and some chairs focused on a television. Young people sat, playing games and talking to aides. The room was warm — smelling like autumn-spice candles. Pumpkin and leaf garland decorated the doorways.
Past the sitting room, I could see a kitchen with neat, clean countertops. I would later learn that these areas were used as part of the curriculum to teach life skills.
Whenever I write a piece, the interview is the most important part. You need to get the who-what-where questions into the copy. Sometimes, subjects will push you to do a phone interview, or worse, answer questions over email.
That may be necessary because of time constraints. Often, it’s the path of least resistance with someone who doesn’t understand the benefits of letting someone else share their story in a new way.
When someone invites you into their work, actually letting you feel their passion, you can put something together that goes deeper than boilerplate copy or a press release.
We were there to discuss their “Giving Back Award” for the Lynchburg Living contest.
There were three people in the room, answering questions about the organization — a difficult format for conducting an interview.
When you have several people answering questions, it can be hard to decide who to quote in the piece — without bluntly asking who is the most important or who speaks for the organization.
In this case, all three people were on the same page and seemed to have a similar vision for the organization. Also, they let the director, Shelly Andrews, take the lead — filling in details on my follow-up questions.
In our conversation, I could tell that Andrews was a warm and thoughtful person. So, I wanted to contrast the power of her position with her personality.
I asked her to tell me stories of individuals the organization had helped. Even if some of the stories were off-the-record for privacy, it helped me see the heart behind what they were doing.
Then, I asked one of my favorite questions. I asked her about myths and misconceptions.
People love to answer this question in interviews! No matter your profession, everyone has something they want to set straight about their field.
Andrew’s response became the focus of the entire article. What they do doesn’t feel like work because there is “… so much joy.”
That concept encapsulated everything I had felt from the moment I walked into their building. I don’t know what I had expected, perhaps something institutional. However, I had walked into a unique program that felt like a home.
I had been greeted by joy.
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