Special Needs Students to Embark on Next Life Chapter After Graduating “Project Search” Program

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HUNTSVILLE, Ala. (WHNT) – In November 2013 Huntsville City Schools, along with Huntsville Hospital, The Arc of Madison County, and the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services joined forces to begin a new program designed to help those with disabilities make the transition from school to work.

The effort, called Project Search, is nationally recognized for its process of total workplace immersion, using an internship program to create a seamless combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and important job skills training through a process of total workplace immersion.

“We provide a classroom for the students, they come in every day through the school year and work from 8am to 3pm,” explains Huntsville Hospital Vice President of Human Resources and Project Search Administrator Andrea Rosler.

The first set of 12 special needs students in their final year of high school will graduate the program Monday night at 6 p.m. at Huntsville Hospital’s Corporate University in the Dowdle Center, room 148.

The goal of Project Search is to provide job-ready training for potential employment for special needs students.

Project Search provides students with job coaches and teachers for training and guidance in which they learn skills for key job areas.

“The response from the parents, the response from the school system has been incredible. the parents have indicated that they’ve seen such a change in their student.”

The program takes 10 weeks to rotate through the course and complete.  The selection process begins six months in advance.

Despite recent progress, people with intellectual and developmental disabilities still face significant barriers to achieving meaningful, rewarding employment.

Typically after age 19, opportunities for special needs students in public schools are over, leaving many parents and guardians at a loss. This transitional program offers students the chance to land jobs in the hospital or elsewhere –  real jobs, says Rosler.

“They do them with such dedication, they show up everyday and what some of the parents have told me is that this has for the first time given them an opportunity to see there is a future – that they do have an ability to make a difference, to actually make a living – to earn a living.”

Project SEARCH works to combat this problem by focusing on the transition from high school to adult life—a critical juncture for establishing lifelong patterns. We prepare young people to enter the workforce so they can achieve personal fulfillment and enhanced self-sufficiency as contributing members of their communities.

Rosler says a surprising outcome of taking on the program is the interns have positively effected workplace morale of current hospital employees.

“Our employees really see the value and see what it’s like to see diversity and to see people who overcome adversity,” Rosler says. “They have gained so much from being around people who really appreciate work. I think we take it for granted sometimes how important it is to have a job, to actually have purpose and have something to come and do every day. It’s really been amazing to watch.”

At least two students have been offered jobs and are working at Valley Hill Country Club. From catering to the pro shop, club managers say everyone has really embraced the students.

“it’s great to see them work,” says Valley Hill Country Club General Manager Cuan Tregelles. “They have a bit more confidence and a smile – it’s a slow process but a rewarding one.”

Tregelles says any employer would be lucky to snag these hardworking students.

“Their work ethic is fantastic. Once they learn the skill they don’t make a mistake and they’re on it – so yes, very glad to have them.”Project SEARCH

With your help, we can continue to expand the reach of Project SEARCH. Your donations support the following critical activities:


  • Dissemination of Project SEARCH philosophy and practices
  • Technical assistance to help our partner organizations establish self-sustainable program sites.
  • Program improvement through the professional development of job coaches, teachers, and other professionals via the Project SEARCH Training Institute.
  • Development of new course offerings and modes of content delivery for the Project SEARCH Training Institute.
  • Research to explore, test, and implement best practices in transition.
  • Ways to donate:
  • Send checks written to “Project SEARCH”

Mail to:

  • Project SEARCH, 3333 Burnet Ave., MLC 5030
    Cincinnati, OH 45229-3026
    Attn: Charee Partee