Lakeland Community College is the new host business site for Lake County’s Project SEARCH, a nationally recognized internship program for students with disabilities seeking competitive employment.
The program was previously hosted at the Lake County Board of Developmental Disabilities (LCBDD) Deepwood campus, in partnership with the Lake County Educational Service Center (LCESC), Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD/BVR), the LCBDD and OakLeaf Partners Transition Services, a Center of Excellence for Adults at UCP of Greater Cleveland.
LCBDD and program partners felt more students would benefit by moving the program to a college campus.
“Students in the Project SEARCH program want to transition from high school to college or the workplace just like their peers,” said Julie O’Neil, director of special education for LCESC.
The Project SEARCH High School Transition program is a one-year internship program for students with disabilities who are typically on an Individual Education Program (IEP) and in their last year of high school eligibility. The most important criterion for acceptance into Project SEARCH is a desire to achieve competitive employment upon graduation. Students are referred to the program through their school district. After graduation, they have the opportunity to utilize the LCBDD Community Employment Services Department for follow-along job coaching services.
On Aug. 22, seven local students began to participate in three internship rotations at Lakeland to explore a variety of career paths. Lakeland is providing internships in a variety of settings and encompassing a number of functions within the college, including computer data entry, custodial, clerical, shipping and receiving, event services, athletics, fitness center, grounds, and the mailroom.
The students will work with a team that includes their family, a special education instructor from LCESC, and a job coach and job placement specialist from OakLeaf Partners to create an employment goal and support the student during this important transition from school to work. The managers of various college departments will provide training, assign work, and assess students’ performance against established metrics.
Sharon Koehler, the Project SEARCH classroom instructor at Lakeland, said the seven students are highly motivated and ready to learn valuable job skills to enable them to find employment in a related position.
“Project SEARCH will help these students develop important skills and work experience that will set a foundation for their career success,” said Koehler.
For the first and final hour of the day, students will meet in the Project SEARCH classroom to develop goals, learn independent living and employability skills, discuss their internship experiences, and work to compile a professional portfolio. After classroom instruction, student interns spend the majority of their day in different departments throughout the college, working in internships. Each student will typically experience a series of three 10-week internships during their time in the program. This allows them to explore career options and learn specific, transferable job skills that give them the qualifications they need to compete for entry-level jobs at the host business or with other employers.
Lakeland President Dr. Morris W. Beverage Jr. said the college is proud to partner with Project SEARCH and create meaningful school to work opportunities for young adults with disabilities.
"At the end of the internship program, these students will gain competitive, transferable and marketable job skills to become successfully employed in our workforce," said Beverage.
Project SEARCH began at Cincinnati Children's Hospital in 1995 and has expanded to 400 sites across the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland and Australia. There are more than 40 Project SEARCH host sites in Ohio including the Cleveland Clinic and Lorain County Community College.
For more information about Project SEARCH, visit projectsearch.us/.