You may have seen them working at Dillons, Newton Medical Center, Caring Hands Humane Society, or another local organization. The graduates of the Project Search program have gone on to find success in the community — and it's these success stories that make Project Search coordinator Jeremy Gooch's job so rewarding.
The Project Search program partners with Newton Medical Center, USD 373 and Prairie View to provide internship opportunities and job skills training for students with disabilities. The program has received another 100 percent job placement award.
"There's a great team effort, it just shows what we can do," Gooch said.
"It's just a wonderful program for kids with disabilities getting jobs," said Craig Knutson, public policy coordinator for the Kansas Council on Developmental Disabilities. "They're doing something different."
Project Search is a growing international program with about 300 sites. Only 20 received a 100 percent award.
The Newton program — which was one of the first Project Search sites in Kansas — is preparing to start a new semester with nine students. Students go through an application and interview process before being accepted into the program.
"They're very excited about being in it," Gooch said.
The goal of the program is to help adults with disabilities gain independence and self-confidence. In Kansas, adults with disabilities have a job placement rate below 15 percent, and the job market could become more challenging as the population of adults with disabilities grows.
Steve Kelly, CEO of Newton Medical Center, said the hospital staff have embraced the program and have served as mentors to the interns. He sees it as a way for NMC to give back to the community.
"The partnership has gone very well — it is the way a community should work together to accomplish good things," he said. "... If we don't take this opportunity to enrich the community, it's really a shame on us. It misses a wonderful opportunity to make this community very special."
Deb Reinhardt said USD 373 also is excited to support the program.
"I think it's been a wonderful linkage to the employment possibilities within the community," she said. "... We're looking forward to another great year."