MOBILE, Alabama –Thomas Fuller stopped vacuuming a chair, looked a visitor in the eyes, shook her hand and then talked about how much he’s enjoying his new job at Mobile Infirmary.
“My job is kind of good, kind of easy and kind of fun,” said Thomas, a recent graduate of Augusta Evans, a Mobile County public school where all of the students have special needs.
Thomas is one of 11 MCPSS graduates with disabilities participating in a new program to teach job skills.
It’s called Project SEARCH.
And it’s a life-changer.
“I’m glad to get a job and to get that money,” Thomas said, adding that he hopes this turns into a full-time job for him when the program concludes. “I love money that I can spend on my own to buy shoes and clothes. I want to be able to pay some bills on my own.”
Working in the janitorial department, he said he particularly likes restocking the cleaning supplies, breaking down boxes and taking them to the disposal, and mopping floors.
Thanks to Project SEARCH, Thomas and the others are gaining independence in a world where it’s often very difficult for them to find a job.
Through Project SEARCH, special-needs students and graduates in communities scattered among 33 states take a one-year internship at a local business or hospital. Following a plan of total workplace immersion, they learn how to complete tasks that others might find tedious. And they learn job and life skills through a teacher who is staffed at the workplace full time and several job coaches.
As a result, according to www.projectsearch.us, completers of the program who have significant intellectual disabilities can become employed in non-traditional, complex and rewarding jobs.
Two months into the program, MCPSS special-needs teacher Christine Wells said she’s already noticing a big difference in the skill-sets and confidence levels of her students.
“Honestly, it makes me cry when I think about it,” Wells said. “These students were shy and quiet and I’m watching them become young adults who realize they can serve a purpose.”
Wells almost teared up when Thomas shook the visitor’s hand and made eye contact. That’s something he may not have done a couple of weeks ago, she said.
The Mobile County Public School System is thankful to Infirmary Health for being the first local business to participate in Project SEARCH.
Shelia Martin, executive director of special programs for MCPSS, said establishing a Project SEARCh program locally is the result of a collaboration between MCPSS, the Department of Developmental Disabilities, Volunteers of America, Vocational Rehabilitation, and the State Department of Mental Health.
"The projects is the dream come true for the special services providers in the school system, but most importantly, for the families of the interns," Martin said.
"We can already see a difference in the interns in their levels of self-confidence, self-advocacy skills, improved communication skills, improved interrelation skills, and functional application of vocational skills acquired," Martin added.
The students spent three weeks at the start of the school year in a classroom learning about their jobs. They took tours of the hospital to get used to the atmosphere.
Mobile Infirmary is like its own city, Wells said, with employees behind the scenes doing everything from restocking supplies to filing medical charts to preparing meals.
“It takes a lot to keep a hospital going,” Wells said she and the students are learning.
The students will rotate through different departments, holding jobs for eight weeks at a time as they learn and practice new things.
Participants work for five hours each day and get a 30-minute lunch break. At the end of the program, a counselor will help them find full-time jobs either at the host site or elsewhere.
One recent day, D’eondre Smoot was washing dishes. Alyssa Tucker and Rebecca Jackson were transporting an IV machine to another part of the hospital.
And David Byrd was counting out seven breadsticks at a time in the kitchen to put in each row of a tray to serve in the cafeteria.
“It’s fun making food. I like to make cookies,” David said. “I don’t cook at home. I am learning how to and I get to meet new people.”
Upstairs, Courtney Croshon was taking a short break from her clerical job. Typically, she copies and scans documents and files them away. She spent a recent day sorting records by date.
“I didn’t need a sticky note at all,” she said. “I did it all on my own. I had to think about it, but that was fun.”
She added: “I would want a job like this.”
Comments on "Graduates with disabilities learning job, life skills at Mobile Infirmary"
I am thrilled to see such a wonderful program for MCPSS graduates! Alyssa was such a hard working student while she attended Vigor that Mobile Infirmary would be very lucky to get such a conscientious employee! Fantastic!