So many questions were running through my head when I accepted the Project SEARCH job coach position. How will the interns receive me? What will my job requirements involve? How many interns will be there? Are the offices on campus welcoming to both the interns as well as the job coaches?
At first I was a little nervous; the thought of sharing in the responsibilities of young adults with disabilities was kind of scary to me. Also, the thought of trying to teach them basic skills sent chills up my spine.
But as time went by, I experienced a group of young people who were determined to learn how to function with as little help as possible from others, and especially their parents. They truly embodied what it means to seek independence.
Project SEARCH’s main goal is to help its interns become more employable. I was surprised to see not only the college students were open and welcoming, but staff were also. The group of interns in Project SEARCH Southern Miss were well on their way. I was shocked to see how well they performed on their jobs—often being told that there were many instances that the SEARCH interns outperformed the average college student.
It became evident that Project SEARCH Southern Miss is making a difference. The employers, coaches, and staff were able to note the following: interns blossoming into social butterflies, a computer talent among other personal talents being discovered, interns being able to sort through emotions better, interns learning the ability to process literal over figurative speaking, interns understanding personal space, and self-confidence increasing by all in simply asking for help when needed.
I know for a fact that independence was a major key to the success of these individuals. I had the pleasure to partake in the growth of maturity, independence, confidence, and a variety of other personal and/or professional achievements. I wouldn’t say that every day was smooth sailing, but we pushed through good and bad days.
I believe that the SEARCH interns and I have learned a valuable lesson, that nothing comes handed to us. Most things in life must be worked for in order to really appreciate where you began. The enthusiasm that the interns had towards the whole process was amazing. They paid close attention to their attire, wording, body language and their entire being from beginning interviews, during work and all the way down to exit interviews. They cared about how others perceived them just as much as how they perceive themselves.
I can say that these interns grew to love each other and were willing to help each other in their weak areas. I must say, I have truly enjoyed my first year as a SEARCH job coach. I look forward to many more interesting challenges.
Project SEARCH® began in 1996 when Erin Riehle, director of the Emergency Department at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, took her frustration of having high turnover in job positions and turned it into a creative and innovative employment program for people with disabilities, especially those with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. Project SEARCH Southern Miss is the first program in Mississippi, joining over 400 programs across the United States and additional programs internationally.
Project SEARCH Southern Miss is a year-long school training program that consists of daily employment preparatory skills training, community development, mentoring services and work internships. The goal is to increase the number of young adults with intellectual/cognitive and other developmental disabilities obtaining competitive, community-based employment. Project SEARCH is driven by collaboration with strong Hattiesburg community partners.
The University of Southern Mississippi serves as the host business. The Hattiesburg School District provides a full-time teacher. The Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services supplies two job coaches, and the Mississippi Division of Medicaid offers waiver services for long-term support.
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.
Cherish Ducksworth is a Project SEARCH Southern Miss Job Coach who is employed by the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services