“We do not fear the future, for we are the future,” was the theme featured on the inaugural Project SEARCH University of Southern Mississippi Class of 2016 graduation invitation.
Seven Hattiesburg High School students participated in an employment skills program on the Hattiesburg campus at Southern Miss for the 2015-2016 high school year. These students became interns and participated in daily employment training and completed three work internships, all at USM.
The Project SEARCH program was originally developed at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in 1996 to offer employment opportunities for people with developmental disabilities in a medical setting.
“Mississippi did not have a SEARCH Program and there was a great need for more employment-focused opportunities for youth and young adults with disabilities,” said Dr. Jerry R. Alliston, Community Education Director at the Institute for Disability Studies (IDS) at Southern Miss. “It was time to have a program with the university serving as a perfect location for various internships opportunities.”
IDS received a grant through the Mississippi Council on Developmental Disabilities in 2014 to plan and implement Mississippi’s first program, making Project SEARCH Southern Miss a reality.
The goal of Project SEARCH Southern Miss is to increase the number of young adults with intellectual/cognitive and other developmental disabilities to obtain competitive, community-based employment. Project SEARCH is a 10-month training program that consists of daily employment preparatory skills training, community development, mentoring services and work internships.
The training program allows participants to work on employability and functional skills in the following areas: team building, getting around the workplace, workplace safety, technology, social skills, communication, presentation skills and interviewing skills.
Project SEARCH is driven by collaboration with strong Hattiesburg community partners. USM serves as the host business and provides for various internships sites.
The Hattiesburg Public School District provides a full-time teacher and the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services supplies two job coaches. In addition, all interns are recommended to apply for Mississippi Division of Medicaid Waiver Services for long-term support.
The seven interns did achieve success. In May, they fully completed all Project SEARCH requirements to succesfully become the first ever Mississippi SEARCH graduates and pursue community-based employment. Two interns secured employment before graduation. The other interns have worked with their job coaches in applying and internviewing over the summer months and anticipate future employment, continued skill development and possible service opportunities.
For more information on Project SEARCH Southern Miss, contact Project SEARCH Coordinator Jin Joo Crosby at 601.266.6037. To learn more about the Institute for Disability Studies, call 601.266.5163 or visit: http://www.usm.edu/disability-studies. The coordination and development of the Project SEARCH Southern Miss Program is funded through a grant from the Mississippi Council on Developmental Disabilities.