Program helps others reach their potential

Published 11:09 am Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Everyone deserves to be as independent as possible.

One way to do that is through employment. Maintaining a steady job is an important way to learn personal and fiscal responsibility.

Several state and local groups in Shelby County have joined together to make that prospect easier for special needs students.

Project SEARCH is a national program designed to help special needs high school students transition to the work force through a series of internships with a community partner. Locally, the program is made possible through a partnership between a handful of local and state groups, including the ARC of Shelby County and Shelby Baptist Medical Center.

The program offers a combination of classroom instruction and internships. Students rotate through three 10-week internships at Shelby Baptist Medical Center, where they work at different departments, including physical therapy and the diagnostic center.

In May of 2012, Shelby County Reporter Managing Editor Katie McDowell visited Shelby Baptist Medical Center to learn more about the program, then in its first year. While there, she met 18-year-old Jamie Whatley, whose coordinators said had matured greatly during her internships.

“She was shy, but she’s not now,” said Anne Clayton, a Shelby Baptist employee who served as a Project SEARCH mentor in the administration department. “I think Jamie is ready for the work field. She’s got the personality. She’s got the skills.”

Clayton was right. Whatley was ready for the workforce, and she is one of several interns from the Project SEARCH’s pilot year who have found paid employment at places like TJ Maxx, Shelby Baptist Medical Center and local restaurants.

These former students are proof that this program works, and we are happy to hear that they are now employed, many right here in Shelby County. Project SEARCH is a fantastic program. It benefits the students, who learn independence and fiscal and personal responsibility; their parents, who get to watch their children blossom; and the county, which gains potential employees with social and work skills.

We would like to thank the Project SEARCH coordinators and everyone at Shelby Baptist Medical Center for helping these students reach their full potential. We look forward to seeing what this new class of interns achieves.

The We Say is the opinion of the Shelby County Reporter editorial board.