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Published on August 12th, 2015 | by Millennium Magazine Staff

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District Five Launch Project SEARCH

Pictured: Officials with Palmetto Health Baptist Parkridge, School District Five and The Arc of the Midlands with six students participating in a new Project SEARCH program.

IRMO – Students in Lexington-Richland School District Five with intellectual and developmental disabilities will now have a smoother transition into the workforce.

The district announced that it has partnered with The Arc of the Midlands, Palmetto Health Baptist Parkridge and Richland County and SC Vocational Rehabilitation to launch the first Project SEARCH site in the Midlands. A national initiative, Project SEARCH is a business-led school-to-work transition model, developing internships for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are in their last year of high school. The new Project SEARCH site at Palmetto Health Baptist Parkridge is one of only two in South Carolina.

“This past year, (District Five Superintendent) Dr. Stephen Hefner approached us and asked us to consider being a host site … when we learned about Project SEARCH and reached out to our clinical leaders, we thought there’s no better place than Parkridge to really take on this venture and this journey,” said Sarah Kirby, Acute Care Executive for the hospital. “Palmetto Health strives to provide positive programs that make real impacts … This is another way that we are trying to create a hospital system that reaches out to the community and makes lasting contributions.”

More than 85 percent of Project SEARCH participants are able to get jobs upon completing the program said Melinda Moore, CEO of The Arc of the Midlands, a community-based organization advocating for and serving people with intellectual disabilities.

“This program will put these special needs students one step closer to independence and realizing their goals,” Moore said. “The Arc of the Midlands’ goal is to support and help all individuals with special needs achieve recognition and acceptance as valued members of their community. The partnership between the groups you see today is a pathway to successful transition and a testament to several organizations working together to ensure special needs students can live successfully and independently.”

Six students from District Five high schools were selected for the program after a thorough interview process. The interns will attend the program for a full school year at Palmetto Health Baptist Parkridge, where they will get hands-on training in the hospital’s food and nutrition, supply and other departments. The students will be assisted and taught by job coaches from The Arc of the Midlands, District Five and SC Vocational Rehabilitation.

For students like Judith Gillings, Project SEARCH will provide preparation for the “real world” and a chance at independence.

“I hope to improve on work experience and be able to go out and be prepared for the real world ….I am so happy that I am here,” said Gillings, who attends Dutch Fork High School.

Her mother Judy Custodio-Gillings said, “Judith is autistic, and this allows not only my child but any child with special needs to have the skills to work in a career environment like health care…We’re grateful that this program even exists. It’s a next step to her future.”

District Five serves nearly 2,000 students with disabilities annually, providing a variety of programs for K-12 students. The Project SEARCH initiative is just one of the programs the district has implemented to ensure special needs students and families have access to services. In February 2015, the district held its first annual Transition Fair, where 18 providers and agencies talked one-on-one with parents seeking job resources and other services.

“In District Five, our goals are to ensure that all students are prepared for the future and ready when they transition out of our schools,” said District Five Director of Special Services Dr. Angie Slatton. “We are so proud to provide Project SEARCH to special needs students in District Five and know that we are helping them make a smoother transition into careers and life after graduation.”

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