by Terry Rogers
Students who have intellectual and developmental disabilities often struggle to find employment due to their disability. For the past two years, DelDOT has partnered with Project SEARCH in an effort to help those who have such disabilities gain the skills they need to find permanent employment.
“It is targeted for students whose goal is competitive employment in the community,” Todd Webb, ADA Title II/Section 504 Coordinator with the Office of Civil Rights at DelDOT, said. “The students have also had some non-paid job training experience. The program often takes place in healthcare, government or business setting where students are immersed in the workplace.
Through Project SEARCH, the students are immersed in the workplace. They participate in up to three unpaid internships which allow them to explore a variety of career paths. Each student works with a team that includes his or her family, an instructor, job coaches, a vocational rehab counselor and a community partner to create an employment goal and to support the student during the transition from school to work.
“I learned how to keep a job, better communication and how to shake hands properly,” Michael Hartzell, who attended the program from Milford High School and is now employed in the auto repair center at Walmart, said. “I also learned to find a job that is right for me. Hopefully, I will stay at Walmart for a couple years and go to school to learn more about mechanics.”
Dylan Groff worked at the Department of Motor Vehicles performing data entry for titles, handicap plates and placards as well as vanity and specialty license plates. Carlos Nava-Rabadan who also attended the program from Milford High School is currently working in the equipment shop at DelDOT where he interned. He explained he learned communication, independence and detail tracking through Project SEARCH.
“I worked in the Central District equipment shop and learned more about the engines, how to do oil changes, how to change tires, fix brakes, headlights, things like that,” Dylan Lewis said. “Before that, I had an internship in concrete where I measured cores and worked with math. I put the cores in the moisture room making sure they cured properly, hammered them out of molds and labeled them with correct contract numbers. Then, I went into hotmix, learning how to burn asphalt off, gradations and how to use the shaker machine. I learned the different types of stones. We had to wear gloves to protect from the heat and fans to cool down the hotmix.” Lewis now has a job as a mechanic at the Central District Shop and wants to learn more to become a better mechanic.
Project SEARCH provides interns with a functional, academic curriculum that stresses employability and independent-living skills. The curriculum is designed around seven major focus areas including working responsibly, communicating effectively, solving problems and developing critical thinking skills, planning and managing a career, applying technology, developing self-advocacy skills as well as demonstrating independent community travel skills.
“The curriculum is flexible and allows the instructor to design lessons around the core topics and adjust the curriculum based on specific intern and employer needs,” Webb said. “We currently have over 20 internships throughout the DelDOT campus where interns learn marketable and transferrable employment skills from 9 AM to 1:30 PM daily. Interns work in finance, technology, photography and digital technology, business management, the Central District shop, equipment shop, DMV, DTC/DART, sign shop as well as the materials and research lab.”
Project SEARCH was developed at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, a research environment that fosters visionary thinking and innovation. The program, which began in 1996, was created by Erin Riehle and Susie Rutkowski. More information can be found at https://www.projectsearch.us/.
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