Special-needs interns, artist spreading angels across the nation

Published 1:33 pm Friday, February 21, 2014

Students with Project SEARCH work to create pieces of art during a Feb. 21 event at the program's office in Alabaster. (Reporter Photo/Jon Goering)

Students with Project SEARCH work to create pieces of art during a Feb. 21 event at the program’s office in Alabaster. (Reporter Photo/Jon Goering)

By NEAL WAGNER / Managing Editor

ALABASTER – Artist Thomas Andrew and interns with Project SEARCH didn’t view their activity on Feb. 21 as work. To them, it was something much more meaningful.

“When you are making these, remember it may be going to someone who is sick or who may have lost a family member,” Andrew told the interns. “It’s not just a piece of art. It brings hope to people.”

Andrew and his wife, Beth, made a visit to Project SEARCH’s office at Alabaster’s Shelby Baptist Medical Center to work with the interns on a joint art venture. Project SEARCH works with special-needs students in Shelby County and Alabaster schools to offer the students internships at area businesses, and also works to find the students jobs after they graduate.

Through the partnership, Andrew made a donation to Project SEARCH to allow the program to upgrade its technology offerings, and the interns helped Andrew construct angel-themed art pieces to sell at shows and shops across the country.

On Feb. 21, the interns spent a few hours gluing small prints of Andrew’s angel paintings onto dozens of black wooden tiles. The interns then attached hangers on the back of the tiles, along with stickers explaining Project SEARCH.

Project SEARCH Job Coach Kim Kielbasa and Shelby County Schools Special Education Coordinator Dr. Marla Aldrich said helping Andrew gave the interns a chance to strengthen their job skills and teamwork.

“We try to teach them lifelong-type job skills,” Aldrich said. “What they are doing today will help them in the workforce in the future.”

Kielbasa said the artwork will help to spread Project SEARCH’s name across the country.

“This teaches them that they can make something they can be proud of, and it’s a great way to get the word out about our program,” Kielbasa said. “When you think about it, we are their college and trade school. Once they finish here, the goal is to find them jobs.”

Andrew shared his gratitude with the interns, and praised their speed in getting the job done.

“This really is very important, and that’s why I need your help,” Andrew told the interns. “You are making stuff that will go to people who really need it.”