Special to The Clinton Courier
For two years, Clinton High School (CHS) has partnered with Project SEARCH and the Mississippi Baptist Medical Center to help give students with disabilities competitive employment opportunities.
Part of the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, businesses partner with the program, providing real-world experience and independent-living skills to help young people with significant disabilities make successful transitions to a productive adult life.
Clinton Public School District (CPSD) Director of Special Education Chaffie Gibbs said Project SEARCH has served as a wonderful option for students who meet the criteria for placement.
“Students are matched to jobs or careers based on his or her interest, skills and ability, which provides a one-to-one personal approach to job training and employment,” Gibbs said. “The ultimate goal for these students is employment with benefits, and we’re already seeing that happen.”
“Last year, we had six students complete the program who are currently working full-time,” said Grace Harris, Transition Coordinator for CPSD. “This year, we will have three students complete the program with prospects for employment.”
Lindsay Pardue, Special Education and Life Skills teacher at CHS, said the program has been valuable for her students.
“Project SEARCH has opened up job experiences and opportunities for our students to participate in competitive, integrated employment, something that they might not have had the chance to experience otherwise.”
Three CHS students are currently enrolled in the Project SEARCH program.
Collin Brown interned at the Mississippi Baptist Medical Center, learning organizational and retail skills.
“I learned a lot of different job skills that will help me when I get a job,” Brown said. “I like the confidence in myself, and it has taught me to communicate better.”
Kate Dickens plans to work at the Mustard Seed and possibly at what she refers to as her dream job—Chick-fil-A.
“I like to work,” Dickens said. “I learned so many skills, and I learned to work by myself.”
Malayla James interned at Baptist, as well, earning both her driver’s license and CPR certification.
“The people at the hospital care about me and my success,” James said. “They believe in me. I’ve learned how to be independent and how to do my job well.”
Baptist Project SEARCH has one instructor, Shay Jackson, and two job skill coaches, Sunshine Pastorek and Ken McCreary. The staff is responsible for teaching job skills that will help each intern to put their best foot forward in the competitive employment world.
“This program is a game changer for young adults with disabilities,” Shay Jackson said. “God has created everyone with a purpose. It is an honor to help this amazing group of young adults realize their capabilities and achieve more than anyone thought. Our interns come into the program uncertain of what the future holds for them. I am always in awe of the growth and independence that is gained in one year. The individuals in this program are eager to embark on the adventure. Each year, I am amazed more and more of the obstacles that each individual overcomes. They are my heroes.”