It’s very rewarding to see students grow and wind up proud and independent.Project SEARCH instructor Jennifer Spitko
SPRINGFIELD — The Effingham County School District features a program that bonds young adults with disabilities to life-changing opportunities.
Project SEARCH provides work experiences combined with training in employability and independent living skills to help participants with significant disabilities make successful transitions from school to productive adult life.
Participation requirements include:
— must be eligible for Vocational Rehabilitation services
— must be 18-21 years old
— must have a strong desire to work
— must be entering the last year of school/training and be ready to enter the workforce at the conclusion of the program
— must have good attendance
— must have appropriate grooming and hygiene
Participants receive job training at Ebenezer Middle School with the support of a certified special education instructor and skills trainer from the school district, a job coach from B&B Services and career guidance from Vocational Rehabilitation. They will develop skills in team building, workplace safety, technology, self advocacy, financial literacy, health and wellness, employment preparation and employment maintenance.
“When Project SEARCH first started, it was at Effingham Hospital,” Project SEARCH instructor Jennifer Spitko said. “When COVID-19 hit, we moved it to Ebenezer Middle School and it’s awesome there. (Students) go through internships in the media center, the front office, the cafeteria, their’s custodial and they help with athletics. They go through the whole school and pick three internships to try through the year.
“They are treated like staff.”
Spitko said Project SEARCH has a high success rate.
“It’s a really great program,” she said. “I have seen so many students who have grown so much doing it. I have a very rewarding job.”
Benji Peth emerged from Project SEARCH six years ago. He has a reputation for outstanding custodial work at Marlow Elementary School.
“I just like to help clean up,” he said.
Peth also helps to keep the school atmosphere light and lively through a special talent.
“I do voices,” he said before mimicking the comical sounds of Elmo of Sesame Street fame and Scooby-Doo.
Peth, however, will take a no-nonsense approach with students if the situation requires it.
“They know I am all fun and games but when it comes time to quiet down and it comes to my job — I am serious,” he said.
Elijah Black is the epitome of seriousness. He arrives for work at the Effingham County Board of Education Central Office spiffily dressed. He’s been doing so for five years.
“He is always neat as a pin,” Executive Director of Human Resources Susan Hartzog said. “He always does a great job and always speaks to everyone. He will do whatever we ask him to do.”
Black’s duties include shredding documents and alphabetizing files.
“It’s very rewarding to see students grow and wind up proud and independent,” Spitko said. “It makes their families proud, too. Sometimes the students themselves and their parents don’t realize how much potential they have.”
Other Project SEARCH success stories include:
Hired by Liberty Janitorial, cleans South Effingham High School
Hired by Effingham Schools Nutritional Services, works in the cafeteria at Springfield Elementary School
Hired by Edwards Interiors, works in graphics
Hired by Faith Equestrian (there for 3 years) and then Blue Sky Equestrian (there for three months), takes care of animals and their stalls
Hired by Halstead, prepares materials for shipping and other warehouse work
Hired by Effingham Health Systems, sanitizes the operating room and assists with transporting patients
Hired by the Effingham County Board of Education, worked in the Marlow cafeteria