Tuesday, October 16th, 2018

S Shopper Stories


Two businesses with one special mission

by Kymberly Bach

Patti Howell, Owner

Patti Howell, Owner

Patti Howell has been a teacher and educator for over 26 years and has taught everything from elementary school to special education, even working with the deaf and hard of hearing. Her extensive teaching experience led her to an undiscovered passion for working with autistic children and helping those who are developmentally delayed to be successful, not only in school and socially, but in life. The desire to do more for such children drove Patti to open her own facility, The Hitching Post Educational Center. It is the premier place for parents who need guidance and resource assistance for their sometimes struggling children.

The path Patti has traveled has been challenging yet rewarding, not only professionally, but personally. After she moved to Chesapeake eight years ago, she accepted the only teaching position open at the time in the autism classroom in Western Branch Primary School. Autism is a social communication disorder and presents itself differently in each individual. Patti, excited about her new position and believing she was well equipped to manage different behaviors and learning disabilities, didn’t think twice about taking the position. However, it wasn’t long before Patti realized the challenges she faced; she was putting all of her tried and true techniques into practice, but to no avail. She knew she needed to learn more to really help these children.

Patti reached out to an Applied Behavioral Analysis (ABA) therapist. “The therapist was wonderful and she gave me some tools to put in my tool box that was completely empty,” Patti says smiling. “The issue was never the students, but rather my lack of specialized training. Over a period of about two years I tried to absorb anything and everything I could. It became exciting to learn new techniques and to see the direct impact they had on the kids.”

Her perseverance paid off and her passion for helping these kids and their families was life-changing for everyone involved. “Children who appeared to be oblivious were now engaged and growing socially and academically.” Patti continues, “I went back to school to become a Registered Behavior Technician (RBT) where I worked under an ABA therapist. I would go into families’ homes to work with the child and family as a whole. I helped put structure into the home. By modeling how to respond to certain behaviors, I helped families implement positive behavior plans to maintain control and stay positive. This meant families could have a better relationship with their child.”

Just some of the artisanal merchandise available at the philanthropic Hickory Trading Company

Just some of the artisanal merchandise available at the philanthropic Hickory Trading Company

As the consummate professional, Patti realized that there were other needs involved for these special children. “Behavior and social skills are such a fundamental part of learning in the classroom but the dynamics can change in the real world. What worked in the classroom often fell short in other situations. I found that a simple outing or the evening routine would become chaotic and very stressful for everyone. So we started to do social activities on the weekends with current and past families. The parents and I worked together to improve behaviors, and the families became a support system for one another. Because we had this bond of shared experiences, the classroom itself also became like a family,” Patti explains.

All this high-intensity effort wasn’t without its challenges, though. Occasionally she needed an escape from the stress and incredibly long hours of being a special needs teacher.  Patti just happened to pick up a hammer and a scrap piece of copper in her husband Andy’s workshop one day. “I watched YouTube videos on working with copper and I found that not only was it fun, it was a good way to relieve stress. I took over  the workshop and made jewelry, eventually placing it in different stores in the area. One day, I called Cowboys and Indians Magazine in search of advertising prices and was asked to submit a few pieces for possible inclusion in their holiday guide. Not only did I get a favorite earring design into the magazine, but traffic to the website has been amazing!” Patti exudes.

The educational center’s mission
is to support children with learning differences
and special needs and their families
through individualized programming,
group sessions and community engagement.

Over the next two years, she began envisioning a centralized location where families could receive academic, social, and behavioral support as well as parent education and advocacy. The solution came to her: she would bring her two passions together in a way where one would benefit the other. She would open an artisan gift shop, providing an outlet for local artists to showcase their talents. The retail shop would not only help support the education center, but would also allow for older students to receive pre-employment training and job coaching. With this idea in mind, Patti and Andy took a leap of faith. Patti quit her job, found a suitable building and, with the help of many volunteers, completed a three month long remodeling in three and a half weeks. They used donated building and recycled materials to create a rustic, old west feel. The Hitching Post Educational Center and accompanying artisan shop, Hickory Trading Company, became a reality on November 3, 2017. Mayor Krasnoff joined in on the ribbon cutting, and Patti is currently accepting applications for artists.

The educational center’s mission is to support children with learning differences and special needs and their families through individualized programming, group sessions and community engagement. Patti offers specialized programs designed to meet the needs of children on the autism spectrum, those with ADHD, developmental delay, behavioral and learning disorders, and who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Patti offers a free consultation and welcomes children from all cities in Hampton Roads. She can work with a family who is just beginning the special education process or with a family who already has a diagnosis; her primary goal is to make sure the family’s needs are met in the best way possible. It can be confusing for people who are not involved in a special education program; often-times dealing with test scores or finding available resources can be frustrating and overwhelming. Patti helps put many of these programs in perspective for parents while working with the child’s educational team with a problem solving focus to get the most out of the tools available.

The educational center also offers tutoring to help assess a child’s reading and math levels while focusing on improvement in areas of weakness. “A child does not need to have special needs to be tutored at the educational center; I tutor because I love teaching,” Patti says with a smile. “Of course, if a child already has an Individualized Education Program (IEP), I will assist in meeting the child’s goals and objectives.” 

 Patti has big plans for the educational center. Beyond tutoring and advocacy, the center is launching game nights for both typical peers and teens with special needs, and will eventually expand into related therapy and counseling. The goal is to prevent isolation and encourage interaction.

The Hickory Trading Company is where the pre-employment program largely takes place. Older students can work there and learn retail job skills to prepare them to earn their own living and become more independent. Home décor, furniture, jewelry and accessories, all-natural bath and body products as well as a tea and coffee station are just a few of the items offered. A portion of the proceeds help fund the education center.  

Without a business background, launching two businesses at once has been challenging. So Patti is especially thankful for Rand Walker of Startup Smart, who spent hundreds of hours coaching, advising, guiding and informing her—it simply couldn’t have happened without him. This isn’t the story of any one person though. Patti is extremely grateful for the amazing outpouring of help from scores of friends and strangers. “This is a story about community,” Patti points out. “There is no way we could have accomplished what we have over the last few months without a lot of help. The community support and involvement have been overwhelming and so appreciated.” 

The Hitching Post

357 Johnstown Rd
Chesapeake, VA 23322