Wake County Project SEARCH Graduates Eight Interns

Friday, June 26, 2020

Steven Talbot’s alarm still goes off twice a day every day. It’s a watch timer he set to keep track of his working hours during his internship – just one of many life skills he learned through Project SEARCH.

“Project SEARCH is an international program designed for individuals with disabilities in order to help them find competitive employment,” explained instructor Carolyn Penn.

During their senior year of high school with Wake County Public Schools, students are recruited into the internship program, where they learn on-the-job training as well as life skills. It’s a partnership between the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS), the Wake County Public School System, Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, Community Workforce Solutions and Embassy Suites in Cary as the host site.

“The way the program runs, they do three internships for the nine months,” explained Project SEARCH coordinator Sandi Bouchard. “They learn the skills that work for that department. For instance, in the kitchen we were helping them learn to cut, dice, slice, how to prep food, wash dishes… how to mop the floors, how to disinfect and sanitize, how to work as a team and how to work individually.”

Several hours of each day was also dedicated to learning other “soft skills” such as self-advocacy, exercise, budgeting and more. “They’re enrolled in four electives: financial literacy, social communication, health and wellness, and skills for employment,” said Penn. “Project SEARCH is a total immersion program.”

These skills, both in the classroom and on the job, are also transferrable. “I liked working in the kitchen with Chef Matt [at the Embassy Suites],” said Talbot. “Now I help my mom cook.”

Due to the COVID19 pandemic, Project SEARCH transitioned to an at-home learning environment.

“We created an Embassy-At-Home checklist of jobs similar to those they were doing at the Embassy Suites so they could continue practicing,” explained Penn.

“Those are transferrable skills. If you can fold laundry in the laundry room at the Embassy Suites, you can fold laundry at home. All of the interns, they truly rocked it,” Bouchard agreed.

On Monday, June 8, Bouchard and Penn celebrated graduation with all eight interns and their families with a ceremony and car parade. This year’s graduates included Rachel Cromer, Casey Park, Josiah Phillips, Catherine Rabon, Colton Rawls, Meghan Sacarello, Steven Talbot and Summer Stallings.

All eight interns were able to take the stage and receive their certificates as their families cheered and waved with homemade signs from their cars and trucks. Simply, “It was fun,” said Talbot.

“It was bittersweet,” said Bouchard. “But the pure joy of seeing the huge smiles and sense of accomplishment from each intern made it all worth it.”

Going forward, Community Workforce Solutions will be working with each intern for job placement and coaching. “I hope to get a job and be useful and help other people,” said Talbot. “Fingers crossed.”

Bailey Pennington, Office of Communications