Project SEARCH prepares students for workforce
by Cheree Dye
Aug 16, 2014 | 2630 views | 0 0 comments | 17 17 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Sean Henderson, an 18-year old Cass High student, greeted visitors to Project SEARCH’s first breakfast to introduce this year’s students to the community and partners of the program.

Project SEARCH is a school-to-work transition program for special needs students who are at least 18 years old and have completed the requirements to graduate. The program is funded by the Bartow County School System and partners with Cartersville Medical Center to facilitate the training experience for students who need to learn the skills necessary for entry-level positions in the community.

Henderson said he is excited about the opportunity and is looking forward to his internship in the day surgery department. His duties will include sterilizing and preparing rooms for new patients.

Various community and county school officials, as well as local business representatives were on hand Friday morning to learn about the program’s goals for the new school year.

Lowe’s Distribution Center in Adairsville hired one of last year’s interns, Alan Harris. Lisa Sauceman, a Lowe’s representative, said due to the positive experience with the former Project SEARCH student, the company wants to partner with the program. Sauceman signed up to mentor current interns.

“It is important for those of us in the community to work with the youth of today to understand job skills and the needs we have as a business,” she said. “Alan is doing really well. Anytime we hire someone new there is a training opportunity and with someone who has a disability we have to work with them to find the best way to get across to them what we need. They have the work ethic and the want to, we just have to figure out how to communicate successfully.”

This year’s class is comprised of seven students from high schools across Bartow County. They will work in their assigned department for nine to 10 weeks before rotating to a new area. By the end of the year, each student will have completed work in three different departments. Maternity, central sterile processing, plant operations and The Hope Center are several areas where the students will learn skills to enhance their employability. In most departments the students will work independently to complete tasks such as preparing new materials packets, stocking and restocking supplies, answering phones, sterilizing equipment, preparing instrument trays and performing housekeeping duties.

One of the biggest goals for the program is to educate the community regarding Project SEARCH and how it can support local businesses. The program points to its 100 percent job placement for last year’s nine students as evidence of its positive impact.

Another area of focus for Kristy Mitchell, Project SEARCH instructor, is aiding students with transportation needs. While students are in the program, they will be transported to Cartersville Medical Center by Bartow County buses. However, once they complete the program and begin to look for employment Mitchell believes the inability to drive may present a problem for students.

“We received a grant from the Northwest Georgia Community Foundation and Wal-Mart to purchase a driving simulation computer program, which we will incorporate into this year’s program,” Mitchell said. “Part of our program is transportation and because we don’t have local public transit, we need to help the students get prepared to take the driving test. If we can help them get a license, it helps them tremendously in the job search once they graduate.”

The deputy sheriff met with Mitchell this week and discussed officer training possibilities for working with people with special needs.

Mitchell said, “We discussed ways we could possibly make police aware of our students and their needs in case they were pulled over by an officer. They may not be able to verbally explain their issues but maybe we could get something to alert police in their information data base so they could see that this a special needs intern. Our kids are going to be out there driving and we want the police to be aware of them and their situation. We also want to prepare our students for anything.

“The more we can open the community’s mind about our students and what we are doing, the better it will be. Our students are very productive and we want them out there working just like everyone else but there are times where there will be a change in the communication style.”

Starting Monday, a typical day in the classroom is 8 to 10 a.m. where the interns will prepare for the job, practice different skills and work on resumes. From 10 a.m. until 2:30 p.m. they will work the assigned shift and the day will conclude with a review of the events throughout the day and discussion of any issues that arose.

Mitchell said, “We are also looking for more advice from businesses as far as what they are looking for in new hires. If we can provide that here, we can make sure our interns are prepared for the business needs in the community. We look forward to continuing old partnerships and creating new ones to enhance our community and the lives of our students.”