Many students nowadays don’t already have a job lined up on graduation day.
However, when Kenneth Boone was honored Tuesday as part of Effingham County’s first class of Project SEARCH graduates, he was in his third month on his job with Edwards Interiors.
Project SEARCH is a nationwide program to provide internships for people with developmental disabilities and train them in entry-level positions. Of the 10 graduates in Effingham’s first class, four are employed full-time and the others are interviewing for jobs.
“It helped me get a job and move on with life,” Boone said.
The Effingham County School System needed a corporate partner for Project SEARCH, and Effingham Health System got on board. Each intern put in a full day, five days a week, at EHS, and worked in three 10-week rotations to gain job experience in different departments.
“Don’t tell yourself, ‘I have a long way to go.’ Instead tell yourself, ‘I’ve come a long way,’” Effingham Health CEO Norma Jean Morgan told the graduates.
Each candidate for Project SEARCH went through a lengthy selection process, including completing an application, writing an essay and going through a panel interview and skill set assessment.
“At first, I wasn’t sure about it because I was nervous, and I didn’t like talking to people,” Boone said. “Project SEARCH got me out of my shell.”
That was a common theme among the graduates. Mary Kussow described Project SEARCH as a “godsend” for her daughter Lindsey, whose learning disability stemmed from contracting spinal meningitis at just five months old. Seizures Lindsey suffered scarred the areas of the brain that control comprehension and long-term memory.
But Lindsey thrived in Project SEARCH, and she too is now employed by Edwards Interiors. Mary watched in amazement as once-introverted Lindsey smiled and talked with her classmates after the ceremony.
“Lindsey is a totally different person,” Mary said. “She’s confident, she’s self-assured, and those are words that never would’ve described her a year ago.”
That is a huge relief to Mary. Had Project SEARCH not come along, she was concerned her daughter would “spend the rest of her life working in fast-food or pushing brooms in the back of (her) daddy’s shop.”
“That’s not what I wanted for her,” Mary said.
To help grow the program, school officials are looking for local business leaders to join Effingham’s Project SEARCH advisory council. The council meets every other month to discuss ways to make the SEARCH students more marketable to employers.
“We need to get the information that’s out in the business community into our business liaison, so we can look for those types of skill sets in the hospital and teach our kids,” said school system transition facilitator Denise Dawson.
Effingham Health System will continue its Project SEARCH partnership with the school district in the 2013-14 school year. The next class of 10 interns has been selected.
“Those kids will hit the ground running in August,” Dawson said.