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Project Search

Project Search

Desiree and Elizabeth Stanley, sisters and graduates of last year’s Project Search program at Neshoba General, now work for the hospital in dietary and Environmental Services (EVS), in full-time and part-time roles.

Desiree has since expressed gratitude and enthusiasm to program directors, saying that how having a job has allowed her to buy Christmas gifts for others.

Mckenzie Street, Jacob Clayton, Abby Butler

Project Search at Neshoba General is a special collaboration between the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services (MDRS), local high schools like Neshoba Central and Philadelphia, and the hospital itself.

Administered by MDRS, this nonpaid internship program is all about teamwork bringing together MDRS, businesses, and schools to support young adults with disabilities.

The program lasts for nine months and offers valuable job skills training to individuals with disabilities, paving the way for future employment.

Participants in the program may have physical disabilities requiring additional preparation before entering the workforce. Interns with Down syndrome, autism, or traumatic brain injuries have all successfully participated in Project Search.

“Our goal is to have gainful and integrated employment,” said Josh Burton Project Search Instructor. “We are trying to reach the highest jobs possible for these interns and we want them to be competitive with others going into a job position.”

The hospital recruits students aged 18-21 from local high schools, targeting graduates or seniors who are 18-years-old. Recruitment for the following years program graduates begins in August.

“A lot of the reason we spend so much time with the students is teaching them not only job skills, but how to get along with other people,” said Annette Watkins Director of Public Relations and Marketing.

Shylah Collins, Desiree Stanley, Elizabeth Stanley

In the past, Neshoba General had three interns each year, but this year, they have two. Those who have completed these internships often have a high employment rate at almost 100 percent.

“The biggest thing they learn from us is not the hands-on skills. It’s more of the social interactions,” Burton said. “One intern we have this year wouldn’t even hardly say a word to us when he first started, now he’s cutting up with us and cracking jokes. It’s amazing to see.”

Jamerson Coleman, a 2024 program graduate, already works full-time in maintenance at Philadelphia High School and is expected to begin full-time employment in May.

“You can tell a lot about a person by the way they walk,” Burton said. “If he’s at work or not he’s on a roll and getting his work done. Jamerson is a go getter, very ambitious, selfless, and will do whatever it takes to get the job done the right way.”

Z’Charion Stephens, another 2024 graduate, already has a job opportunity in the county lined up after graduation as well.

Before being selected for the program, participants need to qualify for vocational rehab services, usually available to students in high school special education programs.

Following selection, interns undergo interviews and skills assessments, just like job applications, and are rated for various hospital departments.

Next year, Neshoba General expects three interns to join the program and graduate. These interns can choose from various departments like environmental services, dietary, maintenance, and purchasing and receiving.

Interns have also participated in radiology, cleaning machines, stocking supplies, and assisting with medical records.

Each student spends 10 weeks in a department, receiving training from job skills trainers like Kelli Blaylock.

Following a week of transition and debriefing, plus additional curriculum, they return to their respective departments for another 10-week internship cycle, and then a third.

The program is designed around three 10-week internships that start in August and end in May like the school year calendar.

Jamerson Coleman Z'Charion Stephens

Students explore these different departments and begin job searches in December, developing resumes, practicing mock interviews, and learning job acquisition and retention skills.

The program also includes employment planning meetings a few weeks into internships, involving business liaisons, MDRS counselors, and coordinators.

Even after graduation, MDRS continues to support graduates with job coaches if more help is needed for employment.

“Working with these young adults is a blessing,” Watkins said. “It really has been a bigger blessing for us that get involved than it is for the interns.”

Burton added, “It’s been awesome coming here. Everybody treats you with the utmost respect. They go above and beyond to accommodate everything that we need.”

Currently, Project Search is launching a business advisory committee to engage community leaders and business owners, seeking input to further enhance the program.

Meetings will be held once a semester with the goal of involving 15-20 business leaders to become integral to the program’s future success at Neshoba General.