Project SEARCH Xavier University celebrated its 10th anniversary on April 14, 2015 in the Conaton Board Room on campus.
Xavier University was the first university worldwide with a Project SEARCH program, which places 18-to-22 year old students with mild disabilities into internships. The goal is to help students who have gained a high school diploma transition into the workplace as non-paid interns. Specifically, the interns build technical skills and learn how to better communicate and problem solve through the program.
The program is a partnership with Great Oaks Institute of Technology and Career Development. Harry Snyder, Superintendent of Great Oaks, said, "Xavier University stepped forward to be the first to embrace the program. As the program succeeded the word spread to others sites." The Project SEARCH model is built on the respect and the understanding that all people deserve to be gainfully employed.
Anne Wendell, Employment Support Specialist for Project SEARCH, said she clearly remembers the excitement of hearing that there was going to be a new Project SEARCH program at Xavier University. "Xavier University was the first university site for Project SEARCH. Your success here at Xavier laid the groundwork and paved the way for a host of other universities sites including programs at Miami University, University of Toledo, Kansas State University, Northwestern University, University of Maryland and many others."
Mark Fay, Regional Manager for Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD), explained that OOD is the government partner of the program. The rehabilitation counselors work with the interns and support them with creating a plan for employment. The interns receive support in job development and job coaching services.
Andrew Schuur, a Finneytown HS graduate and a 2011 Project SEARCH graduate, works on campus at Hoff Dining, operated by Chartwell's. Schuur shared with the audience that Project SEARCH allowed him to be successful by gaining confidence in learning the skills to work in the kitchen. With his employment, Andrew has his own apartment.
Sara Patterson, Glen Este HS graduate and a 2006 Project SEARCH graduate, the first Project SEARCH Xavier class, has worked at Kroger's for a little over eight years. Sara said, "I learned to take the METRO bus to Xavier. I worked with a lot of really good people in the cafeteria." The skills she developed allowed her to obtain her current position working in the salad bar.
Susan Heffler, parent of Nate Heffler, a Loveland HS and a 2012 Project SEARCH graduate, expressed how much the program changed her son. Nate is currently working at Kroger's and has grown in his ability to develop his artistic skills with photography and computers.
Kevin Huss, current coordinator for Project SEARCH, thanked the liaison and employees of Xavier for their tremendous support of the interns. Over 130 people on campus have shown support for the program and interns. Huss said, "The support of faculty, staff and students at Xavier are what make the program so successful."
Heim recognized one Xavier employee, Walt Bonvell, Senior Lead Groundskeeper. Heim said, "At Xavier, one employee that has been our rock from the very beginning is Walt Bonvell. Walt presented at the Professional Grounds Management Society how the university benefited from Project SEARCH. He served on the Business and Industry Advisory Council, was the main speaker of the 2013 Project SEARCH Recognition program and spent many days eating lunch with the interns and giving them advice." Walt was given the Outstanding Service Award for supporting the interns at Project SEARCH Xavier University.
As the program continues to grow, more students with mild disabilities are given the opportunity for individual career development and growth of job skills.
Currently Project SEARCH has over 340 program sites in 46 states and four countries, including 30 sites in the United Kingdom, one in Ireland, Canada and Australia. For more information about Project SEARCH, visit the website at http://www.projectsearch.us.