Press Coverage

Macrae named as new Executive Director

The Board of Directors for Rockbridge Area Occupational Center (RAOC) has named Laurie Macrae as their new Executive Director. Assuming her role on January 8, 2018, Macrae comes to RAOC most recently from Valley Program for Aging Services (VPAS) where she was Director of Senior Services for Buena Vista, Lexington, Rockbridge and Bath County. Prior to VPAS Macrae served 12 years at Providence Service Corporation an international behavioral health organization as an executive leadership coach and director of their international award winning, High Potential Leadership Development Program.

Macrae has lived and raised her family in the Rockbridge community since 1978. A Lexington entrepreneur and seasoned business owner, employer and an elected County school board official from 2004-2011, Macrae brings to RAOC a myriad of professional experiences, many of which steeped in human services.

In March of 2017 RAOC closed its sheltered workshop with the Board of Directors redirection and focus to become a regional leader for services for people with disabilities, offering a wide range of services and activities on-site and through community engagement.

RAOC chose as its first priority the establishment of a Supported Employment (SE) program to provide integrated jobs for disabled adults 18-74 referred by Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services (DARS) or other social service agencies, who are under-employed, unemployed, under-served or in need of specialized services toward gainful employment. SE was launched in May of 2017. The transformation will allow RAOC to serve more individuals over time, integrate individuals into the community and create job centered supports for employers.

Vicki Turner, Board Treasurer for RAOC shares, “Having Laurie join our team is an extraordinary opportunity to take advantage of her many strengths and long association with local community organizations. We are extremely excited to have her leading the organization through its transformation.”


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Mardi Gras/Casino Night Themed Event to Support Revitalization of RAOC

An upcoming event will help fund efforts to revitalize and redirect the Rockbridge Area Occupational Center (RAOC) making it RAOCMardiGras2016 Red & Gold Irish Mask on beadstate-of-the-art in delivering its mission. The fundraiser takes place on February 18, from 6 to 9pm on the campus of Virginia Military Institute. The Mardi Gras themed event, dubbed “Riverboat Queen,” features casino games with professional card dealers, as well as cajun and creole cuisine complete with authentic King Cake flown in from  New Orleans. Three door prizes, each linked to the evening’s themes will be awarded: “Mardi Gras,” “A Taste of New Orleans,” and “Riverboat Queen.” The evening culminates when the winner is announced for a top-tier trip for two to Louisiana’s French Quarter. The gala event is RAOC’s main event to raise money and awareness within the community for its mission which is to provide employment opportunities and vocational training for adults with disabilities from Rockbridge County, Lexington and Buena Vista. Partnering with area industries, businesses and individuals to provide meaningful work opportunity for its clients, RAOC has been doing just that for more than 45 years.

“Contrary to what is usually shown on television coverage, Mardi Gras is at heart a neighborhood celebration. Friends get together throughout the year to plan an evening of fun, food and maybe a little mischief. RAOC’s third annual event aims to provide all three,” says Board Chair Maia Browning.

Moody Hall at VMI is the venue for the Riverboat Queen fete. Attendees can kick off Mardi Gras season with themed decor, food and drink while contributing to a cause that helps the community.

Facing reduced funding and more complexities regarding State and Federal resources, RAOC is reinventing itself to not only keep up with changes but to get ahead of the curve. This fundraiser is a critical part of the group’s operating abilities now and in the future. In a focused and deliberate way, RAOC is seeking to become the new industry standard for helping adults with disabilities engage with their communities. Providing the means of learning and performing work that supports the community, area businesses and most importantly the intellectually and developmentally disabled (IDD) individuals and their families is the goal. RAOC’s Board has engaged help from industry experts to develop a future focused, sustainable path for the organization to continue to deliver its mission and provide best in class vital services to its clients. The short-term goal of the current push to survive and thrive in a changing environment is to create a 5-year transformation plan. The plan will shift RAOC to a new service delivery model that meets the needs of current and future consumer/clients and the Rockbridge community.

RAOC considers this fundraiser a debut of its revitalization plan and seeks to share all its past, present and future impacts with the Rockbridge community during this festive annual event.

“RAOC has been largely self-sustaining over its history, thriving on partnerships with local manufacturers. As a result, RAOC has a much lower profile in the community than many other non-profits. This fundraiser is critical to meeting our financial goals for transitioning to our new business model,” Browning adds.

Cost of the event is $50 per attendee. Advance tickets are available at 928-606-2682 or 540-464-9528. Raffle tickets for the marquee prize, a round trip for two to New Orleans with three nights at the historic Hotel Monteleone in Louisiana’s French Quarter and a dinner Jazz cruise on the Mississippi River are available at Niko’s Grille, and at Sweet Treats (in Lexington), and TNT’s Good Ta Go (Buena Vista). Winners need not be present. Event tickets are also available at these venues.


Interviews and additional information are available upon request.


Press Release Prepared by:
Clair Norman
CHN Communications
(804) 647-3119!

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RAOCs June 5th Fundraising Barn Dance

Have fun and Support Adults with Disabilities!

Barn Dance smallRockbridge Area Occupational Center (RAOC) supports adults with disabilities to educate them so they can find work in the Rockbridge Community. To support this endeavor, RAOC is sponsoring a Fundraising Barn Dance to be held in Glen Maury Park in Buena Vista on Sunday June 5, 2016 from 4:00 to 7:00 p.m. The Barn Dance will be at the Pavilion nearest the Paxton House.

There will be an admission fee of $5.00 for adults and $3.00 for children from the ages of 12 to 18. Children under the age of 12 will be admitted free. Music will be provided by Bill Wellington of the Gypsy Hill Old Time Dance Band from Staunton. The band combines the talents of three outstanding musicians who create music that makes folks want to dance. Their music is fun for all ages.

Food and soft drinks from Todd’s Barbecue Restaurant in Buena Vista will be available for sale as well as beer from Devil’s Backbone. This event is open to the public.

Contact Pat Tichenor at 464-9528 for more information.


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RAOC’s Annual Mardi Gras Fundraiser

“Lets the Good Times Roll!”

Published on The News-Gazette on Wednesday February 10, 2016

RAOC Mardi Gras 2016-King and Queen Throw BeadsSights and sounds of New Orleans prevailed at the Rockbridge Area Occupational Center’s Annual Mardi Gras Benefit held at Col Alto on Sunday, January 31. This year’s King and Queen of the Krewe of FRAOC (Friends of RAOC), Steven Grist and Anne Hansen, graciously showered their subjects with strands of beads and other souvenirs from atop their float which featured an over-sized throne and pouncing “Rex the Lion.” Jester and Master of Ceremonies Jesse Lyons led the activities and entertainment to the music of Second Line bands and classic Jazz.

Sponsors donated a king’s ransom of items for the raffle table and silent auction. Guests shopped at the “Boutik” for iconic merchandize such as perfumes from Bourbon Parfums (established in 1843 and highlighted by Napoleon Bonaparte’s favorite cologne); Café du Monde Beignet Mix and coffee cups; music, streetcars and books. Sales of handmade RAOC necklaces were brisk.

Continuing the tradition of offering “A Taste of New Orleans,” this year’s fare included Hurricanes (donated by Green Forest Surveys), Chicory Coffee (Café au Lait), muffalettas and Creole deviled eggs (donated by Bistro on Main), pralines, and King Cake freshly-baked and flown in from New Orleans.

The entire event was underwritten by donors and sponsors in Rockbridge County and in New Orleans: one hundred percent of all proceeds from Mardi Gras will directly benefit RAOC, which has provided employment and training for adults with disabilities for over 40 years. Our heartfelt thanks to all who attended!

To find out more about RAOC’s services and products, if you would like to make a donation, or to become a volunteer, please click on our logo below to contact us:  RAOC-logo

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Slow economy hinders RAOC hiring

By Emma Deihle

Published on the Rockbridge Report web site on November 12, 2015

A decision in a 2012 class-action lawsuit required all sheltered workshops across the nation to begin integrating their work environments by employing both disabled and non-disabled people. The Rockbridge Area Occupational Center in Buena Vista provides employment opportunities for disabled adults in the area, but it is currently experiencing record-low employment because of a lack of new vendor agreements. The center cannot make any effort to comply with the mandate or expand its operations until it locks down more sub-contracted work.

Watch the video Slow economy hinders RAOC hiring on youtube.

To find out more about RAOC’s services and products, or to become a volunteer, please click on our logo below:  RAOC-logo

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RAOC Seeking Donations for Matching Grant

Published on The News-Gazette Web site on Saturday August 22, 2015

A donor has given The Rockbridge Area Occupational Center a matching grant for every dollar donated in the month of August up to $10,000.

RAOC participates in the Neighborhood Assistance Program (NAP), and donations over $500 may qualify for a 65 percent tax credit on Virginia taxes.

The Rockbridge Area Occupational Center has provided employment and vocational training for adults with disabilities in Rockbridge County since 1969. Every donation, large or small, directly benefits these adults, a spokesman said.

RAOC will have a booth at the Rockbridge Community Festival with information as well as jewelry handcrafted by participants of RAOC. Area residents can buy jewelry and make a donation to RAOC at that time.

For more information, please visit

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RAOC’s Branching Out

NG Image 01Center Strives To Be Creative In Tough Times

RAOC appreciates the ability to republish the article below from The News Gazette on Wednesday, April 22, 2015. 

By Ed Smith

Buena Vista’s industrial base has declined from what it was decades ago. There were the catastrophic floods of 1969 and 1985 that led to factory closings; more recently, globalization and the availability of cheap labor overseas has been the culprit when plants in Buena Vista and elsewhere in the region have shut down.

Traditional manufacturing isn’t the only sector of the local economy that’s been hurt by the latter of these factors. The Rockbridge Area Occupational Center has struggled in recent years to get contracts from the remaining manufacturers because the simple assembly tasks performed by its disabled workforce can be done more cheaply overseas.

“The economic downturn of the region has hurt our business,” acknowledges RAOC Executive Director Willie Funkhouser. “Different factories have closed in Buena Vista. Processes have changed. Our challenge is to find new work that our folks can do. They do hand assembly and bench work, any type of assembly or disassembly. Folding of papers, inserts, anything that can be done by hand.”

RAOC was a bustling place back in the 1990s and into the 2000s. Then, there were 70 people working full-time. Now there are less than half that many, and they’re all part-time.

“We have 30-35 employees right now working four hours a day, 20 hours a week, on days when we have work,” said Funkhouser. “Our goal is to get back to six-hour days, five days a week, and have everybody come in every day.”
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When the Great Recession struck in 2008, the local economy and RAOC felt the reverberations. Specifically troubling for RAOC was the closure of the Groendyk Manufacturing plant in Buchanan that provided the occupational center with much of its business. ITT in Roanoke, manufacturer of night vision goggles, had a booming business back in the 1990s, and especially after Sept. 11, 2001, when the defense industry was purchasing the products. ITT would contract out business to RAOC, but ITT’s work these days is only a fraction of what it once was.

RAOC works under a contract with the Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services. “Our goal would be to grow the business big enough so that we would have to advertise for openings,” said Funkhouser. “We have an agreement with the state that on average our employees will work a certain number of hours per week. Right now we’re limited to the people who are referred to us by the state. … We’re trying to keep a base number of employees, but to do that we’ve had to cut hours.”

Employees are adults with disabilities – intellectual, physical, emotional – “classified as severe enough to affect their ability to function on their own.” Employees are transported in RAOC buses to and from their homes throughout the area – Timber Ridge, Fairfield, Arnolds Valley, Natural Bridge, Buena Vista and Lexington.

DARS provides funding for one-third of RAOC’s budget. The rest comes from the business RAOC generates, assistance from the three local governments and fundraisers. The downward trend in business has continued the past two or three years, though this year is matching up to last year, said Funkhouser –“Not enough to keep us here everyday.”

After Groendyk shut down, the Rockbridge area governments made an additional contribution that year, allowing RAOC to meet its financial obligations.

There are local companies that provide RAOC with business. HDT, manufacturer of portable shelters that moved into the former Dana facility from Fairfield a couple of years ago, is sending work RAOC’s way. Ropes that have to be tied or folded a certain way and parts and pieces that have to be assembled are put together by RAOC workers.

Shredding documents for businesses and individuals is a service RAOC offers. RAOC is doing some assembly work for Modine Manufacturing for items the company needs only occasionally, when they’re not needed in especially large quantities. “This is an example of one-time opportunities,” said Funkhouser. “All of it helps. Maybe other companies will notice we’re venturing out.”

RAOC has added an outdoor crew in recent years that does mowing, raking, weed-cutting, laying down mulch – basically yard work. They also do a limited amount of woodworking – basic carpentry. RAOC’s Web page,, shows everything they make.
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Funkhouser is searching for business beyond the Rockbridge region. “We’re looking at expanding our search zone, looking further afield to find work that’s suitable – hand assembly and bench work.”

A new initiative, a pilot program under the direction of board member Maia Browning, is the making of fine jewelry. “We have the whimsical, the unusual, one of a kind jewelry,” said Browning, who’s searched for and found gems and special pieces for RAOC workers to string together or assemble. She’s secured such items as fresh water pearls, sea glass, beach jewelry, handmade clay beads from Africa, stones from recycled sawdust, products from the 1930s, deco vintage paired with pearls.

RAOC workers have produced signature jewelry collections – Parry McCluer and Rockbridge County high school “spirit collections,” the Natural Bridge collection (available at the Natural Bridge gift shop), Foothill Momma’s Barbecue collection (on display in the restaurant).

Local businesses have been generous with their support of this venture, said Browning. Sheridan Jewelry has made donations. Earnestine Hockaday has lent her expertise and counsel.
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RAOC has been a Rockbridge area institution since 1969-1970, when it began as one of the Valley Workshops – there were several throughout the region in those days. In 1986 it became RAOC, an independent entity. Through much of its existence business came from all of the plants in Buena Vista.

Overseeing RAOC employees is a staff of four – Funkhouser; Diane Burger, office manager; Gail Slayton, production supervisor; and Oakey Pruett, outdoor mobile crew supervisor; plus two bus drivers.

A 10-person board of directors sets policies for the non-profit agency. A number of the board members volunteer, working with the employees one-on-one, helping them with life skills, math, reading.

RAOC welcomes volunteers, said Funkhouser, “People can come in and read a book or just visit. Students in Jennifer Balkey’s marketing class [at Parry McCluer High School] come in twice a month and spend time with the workers, playing games, cards or just visiting. They build relationships over time. When they first come in they’re shy but then they get to know them and feel more comfortable.”

–   –   –

To find out more about RAOC’s services and products, or to become a volunteer, please click on our logo below:  RAOC-logo


RAOC appreciates the ability to republish this article from The News Gazette on Wednesday, April 22, 2015.

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Event with a Taste of New Orleans

The board of the Rockbridge Area Occupational Center will host an afternoon New Orleans style ‘coffee break’ at Col Alto on Feb. 15 at 3:00pm to help acquaint the local community with RAOC.   If you have business experience, non-profit involvement, or have creative ideas and you’d like to know more or are interested in participating we would like to hear from you. We at RAOC are a non-profit where subcontracting is our business. We put all of our earned money right back into our employees’ salaries, upgrades on equipment or infrastructure. RAOC is therefore always looking for sources of contracted work and for new and improved business practices.  We could use your help in support of our employees!

We are going to present an interesting program about RAOC, along with a taste of New Orleans.  The countdown to Mardi Gras has begun.  Maybe something you will hear during the program will trigger an idea, maybe you’ll know a source of work appropriate for us, maybe you’ll have ideas to share. Not perhaps at this event where we just want you  to learn about RAOC, but by phone, email, even a visit to RAOC at a later date.

RAOC has been in business for more than 40 years, currently serves 35 employees with disabilities and yet has not held many community programs, so we want to do this event right!   We think you’ll find it an informative and maybe delicious way to spend a little time with us.
Click on our logo for our contact details    RAOC-logo

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Washington and Lee Announces November Community Grants

Washington and Lee University’s Community Grants Committee has made 16 grants totaling $28,160 to non-profit organizations in Lexington and Rockbridge County. They are the first part of its two rounds of grants for 2014-15.

Read the full article here.

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$10,000 Matching Pledge Challenge to Benefit Rockbridge Area Occupational Center

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RAOC Mobile Crew Worker Russell Mikenas

The people of Rockbridge Area Occupational Center (RAOC), an organization that gives gainful employment to physically, emotionally, or intellectually handicapped county residents, think that there might be Christmas in July. A generous, anonymous benefactor has challenged the community to match a pledge of up to $10,000 by the end of August. Roy Funkhouser, the Executive Director of RAOC, says that this gift comes at a crucial time for RAOC. He states, “We have lost light manufacturing subcontract work to both automation and to work being sent overseas. We are regrouping and venturing into new avenues in order to continue our mission to offer employment to adults with disabilities. As we begin to develop these new ventures, we need assistance to fund new equipment and to sustain our current operations. “ Funkhouser feels that this donation and its matching funds will make a significant difference in the Center’s ability to continue to provide meaningful work for its employees.

Funkhouser also has serious concern about the van that takes RAOC’s mobile crew and their equipment out into the community to do yard maintenance that includes mowing, mulching, pruning, light painting and repair work. The van has many miles on its odometer and has needed many repairs in the last few months. Funkhouser states that it is only a matter of time before the van will need to be replaced with a used vehicle that is more reliable. He hopes that donations will help to offset the cost of such a major purchase.

Board member Kent Wilson adds that RAOC, its staff, its board members, its many employees and their families are all looking forward to new plans and new opportunities for work. And, Wilson says, “There is also hope that the community will step up to the challenge of matching the $10,000 pledge and at the same time help to insure that ROAC’s 45 year history of work will continue to go forward to benefit the residents of Rockbridge County.”

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