UAMS Project SEARCH Interns Learn New Skills

Project Search Intern Derrick Parker Derrick Parker, a Project SEARCH intern, has enjoyed becoming “a team player.”

Feb. 5, 2014 | When Derrick Parker started his UAMS Project SEARCH internship, he had no idea that the experience would expose him to an array of career possibilities.

As a participant in the program for individuals with disabilities, Parker came to UAMS with his mind set on becoming a cook or working in the bakery. UAMS Project SEARCH Vocational Advisor Laura Collins wanted to help him get out of his comfort zone and try new experiences.

“When I came to UAMS, I was nervous,” Parker said. “I was placed in an area I knew nothing about or how to succeed, but with the help and understanding of the staff and my coworkers, I was willing to take the challenge and become a team player.”

In August, UAMS, ACCESS, and Arkansas Rehabilitation Services (ARS) started the inaugural year of the UAMS Project SEARCH internship program. The nine-month internship provides real-life work experiences combined with training in employability and independent living skills with the goal of competitive, sustainable employment beyond graduation. UAMS is providing internship jobs and on-campus space for intern instruction; ARS is providing the interns’ financial sponsorship and career guidance; and ACCESS is providing program coordination and instruction, job coaching and post-graduation “follow along” services.  

UAMS Project SEARCH gives 12 interns the opportunity to work entry-level jobs in several UAMS departments, including campus operations, nutrition services, patient transport and central supply, among others. They rotate to a different job every 10 weeks. After interns secure employment, UAMS Project SEARCH graduates receive follow-along services to help with job retention. 

Derrick Parker began his internship in Rehab Services. He worked in the Hand Therapy Center, the Donald W. Reynolds Institute on Aging, and the Jackson T. Stephens Spine Center Therapy Gym. He did the rotation every day and helped with Joint Commission regulations and with patient care.

Collins spoke highly of Parker and his participation in the program.

“Derrick came in wanting to be a cook, but we wanted to get him out of his comfort level and try something new, so we placed him in rehab services,” Collins said. “He thanked us, his mom thanked us, and he said he would have never thought of this.”

She said for Parker’s second rotation, Derrick and his team chose Nutrition Services for him to gain more experience in an area in which he hopes to have a career.

“He’s in the bakery and he’s doing great,” Collins said. “The staff there are very supportive of Derrick.  He has done extremely well, and we are all so very proud of him!”

Parker said his dream is to one day own his own restaurant. He became interested in cooking at a young age, watching his mother and grandmother in the kitchen. He said UAMS Project SEARCH has helped him prove to himself and other people that having a disability does not mean he is not able to perform on the job.

As a member of the nutrition services team, Parker is responsible for making a lot of baked goods such as brownies, cornbread and biscuits.

“Here at UAMS, I have learned that we have all faced an area where we are challenged and may not have the ability to do the job,” Parker said. “But with the right training, our minds are exposed to not allow the limits of our ability to dictate the outcome of our success.”

Collins said another of the interns, Andrew Aston, has already been hired full time. Aston was hired by Crothall, contracted by UAMS, to work in patient transport. One of Aston’s supervisors said he showed great integrity and compassion for the position. He started Jan. 21.

UAMS Project SEARCH program coordinator Jenny Adams said she hopes that, the program will expand. Adams, a special educator at ACCESS, works with Collins and job coach Aloma Kouyais to implement overall program management, program instruction, job coaching and vocational placement services for the interns.

She said the main goal of Project SEARCH is to get the interns jobs or careers. To help with this, the team has created a 12-person business advisory council with representatives from Dillard’s Inc., the City of Little Rock, and other organizations interested in helping the interns pursue employment. The council members engage in various activities, such as mentoring interns, offering to review interns’ resumes and host mock interviews, and introducing fellow business contacts to the program.

“We are very grateful to UAMS and ARS for partnering with ACCESS to make this unique job training program available for these young men and women,” said Adams. “Together, we are giving individuals with disabilities the self-confidence, skills and opportunity to demonstrate how they can give back to our community in meaningful ways. We are so proud of the interns’ progress and are looking forward to working with them as they graduate and welcoming our Year 2 interns this fall.”

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