First Group of Interns Graduates UAMS Project SEARCH Program Ready to Join Workforce

By Liz Caldwell

The interns in UAMS Project SEARCH — a partnership between UAMS, the ACCESS and Arkansas Rehabilitation Services — started last August at UAMS, working jobs in patient transport, nutrition services, central supply, the mailroom, human resources and other areas.

Arkansas first lady Ginger Beebe joined UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D., and leaders from ACCESS and Arkansas Rehabilitation Services to celebrate their graduation from the program and the program’s success in helping prepare them for employment.

UAMS Project SEARCH, the first program of its kind at an Arkansas university and the only in central Arkansas, was modeled after the internationally successful Project SEARCH program started at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, Ohio.

“Congratulations to these hard-working interns for their dedication in completing this program. I am thrilled to hear of your successes and the jobs that are ahead of you,” said Beebe. “UAMS, ACCESS and Arkansas Rehabilitation Services are now a shining example of the power such a workforce training program can have to prepare disabled Arkansans for career opportunities that contribute to the economic success of their employers and of Arkansas.”

Ten of the 11 interns have found employment so far with companies and organizations that include the city of Little Rock, Crothall Healthcare, Dillard’s, Maverick Transportation, Developmental Disabilities Council, St. Vincent Health System and UAMS.

“This inaugural class of interns embraced this experience and their enthusiasm never flagged as they tackled new challenges and gained new skills in the process,” said UAMS Chancellor Dan Rahn, M.D. “We are grateful to our Project SEARCH partners who provided the education and resources the interns needed to succeed while they were at UAMS and now as they move forward to join the workforce.”

A co-founder of the original program, Erin Riehle, director of disabilities services at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, sent greetings and congratulations to the interns and the program’s partners: “If only all of our programs were as effective as the UAMS Project SEARCH site! This level of success is unheard of in a first-year program, and we need to find what they are doing and pass it on.”

UAMS served as the host business for the program, providing entry-level work experiences that match each intern’s skills. ACCESS advisors met the interns daily for vocational instruction, job coaching and lessons in independent living skills. Arkansas Rehabilitation Services provided financial support for the program, applied directly to vocational education and career development. The goal was to help participants build competitive, marketable and transferable skills and enable them to apply for a related job upon completion of the internship.

“This first year of Project SEARCH in central Arkansas has succeeded beyond our hopes and is a credit to everyone involved — the interns, our on-site advisors and the job hosts,” said Tammy Simmons, ACCESS executive director. “We are proud to see this program move from concept to results as these graduates emerge from the experience equipped with job skills they need for success.”

Robert Trevino, deputy commissioner of Arkansas Rehabilitation Services added: “UAMS Project SEARCH succeeded wonderfully and the interns are the beneficiaries — as is the state of Arkansas, as this group has shown the path to help more Arkansans with disabilities work and lead productive and independent lives.”

Founded in 1996, Project SEARCH has grown to an international one-year internship program for individuals with developmental disabilities who desire sustainable, competitive employment. Its proven training and employment model spans more than 200 licensed programs across the United States, five countries and multiple industries.

UAMS Project SEARCH interns were selected for the program following interviews with a selection committee made up of representatives from the three organizations. Eligibility criteria include having an intellectual disability, developmental disability and/or a referral from Arkansas Rehabilitation Services; a high school diploma, GED or certificate of completion; appropriate social, communication and independent living skills for participation in a work program; and reliable transportation to and from work. The interns also met UAMS employment requirements such as immunizations, the ability to observe patient privacy rules, pre-employment drug screening and background checks.

A group of 12 interns has been accepted for the 2014-2015 UAMS Project SEARCH program. They will begin their internship experience this summer.

ACCESS is a 501c3 nonprofit offering evaluation services, full-time education, therapy, training and activities for individuals ages 0-35 with developmental delays and learning disabilities. Founded in 1994, the center comprises ACCESS Preschool; ACCESS Academy (for kindergarten-age students through grade 12); ACCESS Therapy (including speech, physical and occupational therapy programs); ACCESS Tutoring; ACCESS Life (a young adults day program); and ACCESS Evaluation and Resource Center (offering psychological and psychoeducational evaluations as well as technology training for students, parents and teachers). The center is located at 10618 Breckenridge Drive in Little Rock, Ark.

Arkansas Rehabilitation Services is a division of the Arkansas Department of Career Education. A network of 19 field offices serves individuals with disabilities in all 75 counties, as mandated by federal legislation. ARS also operates the Arkansas Career Training Institute (ACTI), which is a comprehensive rehabilitation center, one of eight in the United States and the only one west of the Mississippi. ACTI is a residential facility that provides education and training, as well as medical services and other supports, to individuals with disabilities. The services that individuals with disabilities can receive through ARS include career counseling, assessment, postsecondary education, career and technical education, training, and medical services if it is determined that medical services will help a client find employment. Clients may also receive support services such as assistive technology, job placement services, employability skills instruction and coaching, and life skills instruction. High school students with disabilities are provided transition services to help them move successfully from high school to further education and training or jobs. For more information, visit the website at and click on the Arkansas Rehabilitation Services tab.