HATTIESBURG, MS (WDAM) - This is a news release from the University of Southern Mississippi.
For nine Hattiesburg High students, the first-day-of-school jitters were different than for most seniors.
Instead of starting their last year of secondary school studying customary classwork, these students began a new pilot program in Mississippi called Project SEARCH Southern Miss. On Monday, August 17, these students began a journey toward independence, adulthood, and employment.
Project SEARCH Southern Miss is an eight-month training program that consists of daily employment preparatory skills training, community development, mentoring services and work internships. The goal is to increase the number of young adults with intellectual/cognitive and other developmental disabilities to obtain competitive, community-based employment.
Project SEARCH is driven by collaboration with strong Hattiesburg community partners. The University of Southern Mississippi serves as the host business. The Hattiesburg School District provides a full-time teacher. The Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services supplies two job coaches, and the Mississippi Division of Medicaid offers waiver services for long-term support.
"Project SEARCH Southern Miss adds to the growing focus on improving employment opportunities for Mississippians with disabilities. Mississippi will greatly benefit from this program," said Dr. Jerry R. Alliston, Community Education Director for the Institute for Disability Studies (IDS) at The University of Southern Mississippi. "Thanks to the Mississippi Council on Developmental Disabilities, Mississippi is no longer one of the four states without a program."
IDS has a longstanding history of establishing new programs and furthering partnerships in the community. Hattiesburg High School has partnered with IDS on several previous employment and leadership initiatives.
"I am extremely excited about Project SEARCH and the partnership it is affording our students," said Hattiesburg High School Principal Jermaine Brown, who chose to serve a primary role in the first Mississippi SEARCH program. "With the help of Project SEARCH, we can truly say that we are fostering career readiness for all students including those with disabilities."
"The Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services is proud to partner with the Institute for Disability Studies at The University of Southern Mississippi to help increase competitive integrated employment in the community for individuals with disabilities," said Executive Director Chris Howard, noting partnership has been a key to this program. "Through Project SEARCH, a collaborative training program will provide internship opportunities, workplace safety, social skills awareness, and employability skills to transitioning students in the Hattiesburg area to help them take important steps towards their careers."
Project SEARCH ® began in 1996 when Erin Riehle, director of the Emergency Department at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, took her frustration of having high turnover jobs and turned it into a creative and innovative employment program for people with disabilities, especially those with intellectual and other developmental disabilities. Project SEARCH Southern Miss is the first program in Mississippi, joining over 400 programs across the United States and additional programs internationally.
For more information on Project SEARCH Southern Miss, contact Project SEARCH Coordinator Jin Joo Crosby at 601.266.6037. To learn more about the Institute for Disability Studies, call 601.266.5163 or visit: http://www.usm.edu/disability-studies. The coordination and development of the Project SEARCH Southern Miss Program is funded through a grant from the Mississippi Council on Developmental Disabilities.