UAMS Project SEARCH Draws Praise from Governor

UAMS Project Search The 12 UAMS Project SEARCH interns pose for a photo with the three staff members from ACCESS who meet with them daily at UAMS.

Project SEARCH intern Andrew Aston talks about working in patient transport at UAMS.

Gov. Mike Beebe said he’d never heard of Project SEARCH before it came to Arkansas, adding he was glad to see such a program that gives the disabled work experience and preparation to seeking a job.

Project SEARCH International co-founder Susie Rutkowski praised the partnership that brought the Project SEARCH program to UAMS.

Oct. 3, 2013 | Working in patient transport at UAMS Medical Center is “a blast” because he gets to help people, said Andrew Aston, an intern in the new UAMS Project SEARCH program that drew praise from Gov. Mike Beebe and others at an Oct. 1 event.

Aston was one of 12 interns who started in August in the yearlong internship program for young adults with developmental disabilities. The interns are gaining work experience in preparation for future jobs with entry level jobs in patient transport, volunteer services, nutrition services, central supply and other areas at UAMS while also having daily instruction in employability and independent living skills.

Aston, 24, said he enjoyed helping people by getting wheelchairs where they are needed by patients — and in the process has learned a lot of shortcuts to get around the large UAMS campus. “This program is a good way for me to gain experience and I’ll be more prepared for what lies ahead of me in the future.”

The governor started his remarks by noting that October was appropriately National Disability Employment Awareness Month. He said that the program benefits everyone, from the interns to their families to UAMS and those who brought the program here.

“All of us have the ability to contribute,” Beebe said. “When we leave people out of that equation, it is an indictment of us — not them. And when we include the ability to maximize those talents, it is a positive indictment for all of us.”

Beebe admitted he had never heard of Project SEARCH, the internationally successful internship program started at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati in 1996. He praised the partnership of those who used the original model to bring the program to Arkansas, including ACCESS — the Little Rock-based nonprofit that provides education, therapy and training to people with disabilities, Arkansas Rehabilitation Services and UAMS.

“The interns are approaching their work with such enthusiasm and commitment that it really drives home the importance of UAMS Project SEARCH both in preparing them for jobs after their internships and helping UAMS provide patient- and family-centered care and exceptional service to our institution,” said UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D. “They are helping UAMS in its patient care, academic and research areas, all focused on our mission of health and health improvement in Arkansas.”

Susie Rutkowski, M.Ed., co-founder of Project SEARCH International, said that visiting with the interns prior to the event it was easy to sense the pride each one felt in the work they were doing. The question “what do you do?” is one we often ask when meeting someone, she said.

“These young people are already filled with pride,” Rutkowski said. “I’m so grateful to all of you, whether you are a partner in Project SEARCH or here at the medical center, whether you’re a family member or you’re from ACCESS or you’re a teacher, a job coach, a vocational coordinator or the governor, thank you for allowing these 12 interns and many beyond to get the training they need and have the opportunities that they need so that they can go back to their communities and get a meaningful job and be able to answer ‘what do you do?’”

UAMS serves as the host business for the program, providing entry-level work experiences that match each intern’s skills. ACCESS staff members meet the interns daily for vocational instruction, job coaching and lessons in independent living skills. Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, a part of the Arkansas Department of Career is providing financial support for the program, applied directly to vocational education and career development.

“When we heard about the Project SEARCH program, we knew it was something we wanted to bring to central Arkansas,” said Tammy Simmons, ACCESS executive director. “With the help of UAMS and Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, we are providing young Arkansans with disabilities with a proven program for on-the-job training and the support they need to achieve their employment goals.”

Added Bill Walker, director of the Arkansas Department of Career Education: “This project is consistent with our goals and we’re excited to participate because it’s about working together, about collaboration, about partnership and it’s an opportunity for young adults with disabilities to get the job training to go out and compete for real jobs.”

The interns work with a team that includes their families, an instructor, vocational advisor and job coach along with Arkansas Rehabilitation Services counselors to create employment goals and support interns during the transition to work. The goal is to help participants build competitive, marketable and transferable skills to enable them to apply for a related job upon completion of the internship.

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 is used in more than 150 licensed programs spanning 42 states, four 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.

Applications are now being accepted for the second UAMS Project SEARCH class that will begin in 2014. The applications can be found at http://projectsearch.uams.edu. The application deadline is Dec. 20, 2013.

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