Project SEARCH celebrates graduation, competitive employment and independent living

A packed house of family, friends and supporters filled the TSYS auditorium in May to witness and celebrate the graduation of eight interns from the TSYS Project SEARCH program.  

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Project SEARCH celebrates graduation, competitive employment and independent living

Jul 18, 2018

Project SEARCH celebrates graduation, competitive employment and independent living

A packed house of family, friends and supporters filled the TSYS auditorium in May to witness and celebrate the graduation of eight interns from the TSYS Project SEARCH program.

It was a joyous occasion, especially for the graduates, who all have taken jobs with employers in Columbus, Georgia at places such as Country’s Barbecue, Papa John’s Pizza, Easterseals of West Georgia, ABM Industries (formerly Southern Management), and TSYS.

A transitional program, Project SEARCH helps high school graduates with intellectual or developmental disabilities gain real-world work experience and training. The program prepares the graduates for competitive employment after the internship is completed. The objective is to help the interns develop skills that are relevant, diverse and marketable.

A community of talent

“This is a community that is often forgotten, but it’s an important community full of talent and potential that can make a difference in the workplace,” said Patty Watson, chief technology officer at TSYS and executive sponsor of Project SEARCH. “Hiring people with intellectual disabilities is a talent pool that many companies have not tapped into yet. The challenge that we face is that people and employers underestimate the capabilities of someone with an intellectual disability.”

Founded in 1996 at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Project SEARCH in Columbus is a collaborative program between the Muscogee County School District, Easter Seals of West Georgia, the Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Agency and TSYS. Today, there are more than 500 Project SEARCH sites across the United States and the world. TSYS began participating in 2016.

“Project SEARCH really enables and highlights how somebody with an intellectual disability can contribute successfully to an organization and make a positive difference to the bottom line, as well as to the culture of diversity and inclusion,” said Watson.

Project SEARCH at TSYS

Work skills and life skills

An intensive, nine-month program, the Project SEARCH curriculum involves classroom instruction, skills training, work-related tasks and evaluations. An instructor, a skills trainer and several mentors work closely with the interns and prepare them for real work experience.

“We teach them work skills and life skills,” said Loretta Fuller, Project SEARCH instructor. “We help them get a job and try to develop them personally and professionally.”

Fuller said the program involves teaching the interns about important issues and topics such as workplace safety, inventory management, health and fitness, and how to write a resume. The interns also learn how to use relevant technology software such as Microsoft Word, Excel and PowerPoint. They also engage in team-building activities and study financial literacy where they learn how to make a budget, pay bills, bank online and save money.

Changing the workplace culture and the general perception of people with disabilities is what Project SEARCH is all about. And so is developing human talent for real jobs.

'There is nothing I can't handle'

Back at the graduation ceremony, the Project SEARCH graduates were all recognized for their hard work and tenacity. They were also presented with gifts from TSYS — laptop computers.

“What a wonderful night it is and congratulations to the eight of you,” said Pino Davis, the Project SEARCH business liaison at TSYS.

One graduate, Deshante Banks, spoke to the gathered group of supporters about his job that he had already started at ABM Industries, a vendor providing onsite facilities management services.

“I recycle trash and break down boxes and take them to a dumpster and I put the boxes in a big cardboard crusher,” said Banks. “I also make runs to the loading dock, the print room and internal mail sort. No matter how hard the work is, there is nothing I can’t handle.”

That’s the optimistic spirit that Project SEARCH hopes to instill in all of its graduates.

“We are so proud of the 2018 Project SEARCH graduation class,” said Davis. “They have all worked very hard to get to this point. We wish them continued success and happiness as they begin the journey of independent living and working real jobs.”