YORK — Project SEARCH – a transition program for students with disabilities who are in their last year of high school – helps young adults with disabilities learn the ins and outs of gaining and keeping employment.
Project SEARCH partners with York General and Vocational Rehabilitation to offer young adults with disabilities classwork and York General internship opportunities. The York area’s program includes students from within the reaches of Educational Service Unit 6. This year’s ESU 6 participants are York High School students Janet Enriquez and Quinton Corwin, Dorchester High School student Teana Dornan and Thayer Central High School student Gabe Elting.
“Our primary focus is people with developmental disabilities. We’re trying to get them from high school to life after high school,” said Nichole Wetjen, project instructor and coordinator. “Our job is to help place young people in paid employment when they leave here.”
One Project SEARCH success story is that of Katherine Heng. Following her completion of Project SEARCH, Heng attended Central Community College and currently works at Midwest Covenant Home in Stromsburg. Heng’s specializes in the facility’s activities department. She has been employed at Midwest Covenant Home for three years. Heng said initially she wasn’t sold on the Project SEARCH idea.
“I was hesitant at first, but once I did it, I knew it wasn’t a mistake,” Heng said of the program. “It showed me where I wanted to be.”
The curriculum of Project SEARCH, which spans one year, includes career exploration, money management (complete with a mock paycheck to teach budgeting), job seeking skills, employability skills and social skills. “You learn a lot of life skills,” Heng said.
Project SEARCH is capped off with unpaid internships at different York General locations. Enriquez is currently interning in Willow Brook’s dining department. Corwin is working in the hospital’s lab. Dornan is at Westview in child care and Elting is interning at Willow Brook doing materials management.
In order to get an internship, the students have to apply for the position, utilizing their classroom-learned interviewing, resume-writing, and job application skills. These augment traits Wetjen said she has noticed in many Project SEARCH students.
“Our young people with disabilities are more likely to be faithful and loyal,” Wetjen said. “Their work ethic is really good.”
It has been Heng’s work ethic and her experiences completing Project SEARCH that have made an impact on her life, Heng said. She added that qualifying students should take the program into consideration.
“Project SEARCH is great. Any high school kid -- go for it.”
Project SEARCH partners also include DHHS Developmental Disabilities, the Nebraska Commission for the Blind and Visually Impaired and the Nebraska Assistive Technology Partnership. More information on Project SEARCH can be found at http://tinyurl.com/ProjectSearchYork.