First Interns Graduate UAMS Project SEARCH Ready to Join Workforce

Derrick Parker, an intern in the UAMS Project SEARCH program, thanks his job coaches, coworkers and support that helped him be successful in the program.

UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn introduces the 11 members in the first group to complete the UAMS Project SEARCH internship program.

Arkansas First Lady Ginger Beebe praises UAMS, ACCESS and Arkansas Rehabilitative Services for teaming up to start UAMS Project SEARCH to prepare young adults with disabilities to find employment.

June 2, 2014 | Each of the young adults in the first group to complete the UAMS Project SEARCH internship program took a moment after receiving their certificate at the May 30 graduation ceremony to offer thanks and celebrate what they had learned in the past nine months.

“Project SEARCH helped me to become more confident.”

“I now have a full-time job — none of this would’ve happened without Project SEARCH. Thank you!”

“Getting a job isn’t just about making money but enjoying what you do and being a productive part of society. Thank you.”

“I learned new skills.”

“I’ve gotten to know so many people, I feel like a celebrity. Project SEARCH taught me to be a good worker.”

“I didn’t believe in myself before this program.”

“I thank the job coaches who gave me hope to go after my goals no matter the disability.”

Another intern dedicated his certificate to his mother for all the time and support through his life. For the times she went hungry so her children could have something to eat, he said. For the times she was there to support him and his siblings. And he, like nine other interns, already has a job waiting for them.

The celebration proved emotional and joyous as the first group of interns in the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences’ (UAMS) Project SEARCH program for young adults with disabilities completed the yearlong internship with all 11 ready to move on to employment.

The interns in UAMS Project SEARCH — a partnership between UAMS, the ACCESS and Arkansas Rehabilitation Services — started last August at UAMS, working jobs in patient transport, nutrition services, central supply, the mailroom, human resources and other areas.

Hollis Carter, whose daughter — intern Becky Carter — had been talking about the graduation “non-stop” for three weeks said, “Her mother and I worried that when she left school, her world might get smaller, not larger. This program has expanded her world.

“Thank you to the three organizations who had the great vision to start this program in Little Rock.”

Arkansas first lady Ginger Beebe joined UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D., and leaders from ACCESS and Arkansas Rehabilitation Services to celebrate their graduation from the program and the program’s success in helping prepare them for employment.

UAMS Project SEARCH, the first program of its kind at an Arkansas university and the only in central Arkansas, was modeled after the internationally successful Project SEARCH program started at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“Congratulations to these hard-working interns for their dedication in completing this program. I am thrilled to hear of your successes and the jobs that are ahead of you,” said Beebe. “UAMS, ACCESS and Arkansas Rehabilitation Services are now a shining example of the power such a workforce training program can have to prepare disabled Arkansans for career opportunities that contribute to the economic success of their employers and of Arkansas.”

Ten of the 11 interns have found employment so far with companies and organizations that include the city of Little Rock, Crothall Healthcare, Dillard’s, Maverick Transportation, Developmental Disabilities Council, St. Vincent Health System and UAMS.

“This inaugural class of interns embraced this experience and their enthusiasm never flagged as they tackled new challenges and gained new skills in the process,” said UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D. “We are grateful to our Project SEARCH partners who provided the education and resources the interns needed to succeed while they were at UAMS and now as they move forward to join the workforce.”

A co-founder of the original program, Erin Riehle, director of disabilities services at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, sent greetings and congratulations to the interns and the program’s partners: “If only all of our programs were as effective as the UAMS Project SEARCH site! This level of success is unheard of in a first-year program, and we need to find what they are doing and pass it on.”

UAMS served as the host business for the program, providing entry-level work experiences that match each intern’s skills. ACCESS advisors met the interns daily for vocational instruction, job coaching and lessons in independent living skills. Arkansas Rehabilitation Services provided financial support for the program, applied directly to vocational education and career development. The goal was to help participants build competitive, marketable and transferable skills and enable them to apply for a related job upon completion of the internship.

“This first year of Project SEARCH in central Arkansas has succeeded beyond our hopes and is a credit to everyone involved — the interns, our on-site advisors and the job hosts,” said Tammy Simmons, ACCESS executive director. “We are proud to see this program move from concept to results as these graduates emerge from the experience equipped with job skills they need for success.”

Robert Trevino, deputy commissioner of Arkansas Rehabilitation Services added: “UAMS Project SEARCH succeeded wonderfully and the interns are the beneficiaries — as is the state of Arkansas, as this group has shown the path to help more Arkansans with disabilities work and lead productive and independent lives.”

Founded in 1996, Project SEARCH has grown to an international one-year internship program for individuals with developmental disabilities who desire sustainable, competitive employment. Its proven training and employment model spans more than 200 licensed programs across the United States, five countries and multiple industries.

UAMS Project SEARCH interns were selected for the program following interviews with a selection committee made up of representatives from the three organizations. Eligibility criteria include having an intellectual disability, developmental disability and/or a referral from Arkansas Rehabilitation Services; a high school diploma, GED or certificate of completion; appropriate social, communication and independent living skills for participation in a work program; and reliable transportation to and from work. The interns also met UAMS employment requirements such as immunizations, the ability to observe patient privacy rules, pre-employment drug screening and background checks.

A group of 12 interns has been accepted for the 2014-2015 UAMS Project SEARCH program. They will begin their internship experience this summer.

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