UAMS Project SEARCH Interns Complete Program, Many Find Jobs

By Ben Boulden

Project SEARCH Arkansas ACCESS Initiative in partnership with Arkansas Rehabilitative Services (ARS) is a nine-month internship program for young adults with developmental disabilities. Interns participate in the program with the goal of gaining necessary skills to obtain competitive employment. After graduating, six of the seven already have secured employment in a variety of occupations.

Chancellor Cam Patterson speaks before certificates are handed out to Project SEARCH graduates.

Chancellor Cam Patterson speaks before certificates are handed out to Project SEARCH graduates.Image by Evan Lewis

Typically, the interns spend nine months at UAMS working in various department and learning valuable job skills. Because of the pandemic, this year the program had to shift to other places of employment.

“This class of interns embraced this experience and their enthusiasm never flagged as they tackled new challenges and gained new skills in the process,” UAMS Chancellor Cam Patterson, M.D., MBA, said at the start of graduation ceremony. “This particular class was especially dedicated.”

Due to COVID-19, the program participants spent the year on the ACCESS Academy campus. They did internships at the ACCESS Young Adult campus, Early Childhood campus and at the Arkansas Foodbank warehouse. They also had the support of their families.

“This year also consisted of very committed families with one family driving their intern 90 miles round trip each day to take him to his internship and now to his job,” Patterson said. “This intern was able to complete a driver’s education course while in Project SEARCH and has passed his written exam and is now one step closer to his goal of being able to drive himself.”

Rebecca Seljan, Project SEARCH Arkansas: ACCESS Initiative assistant director, said she has seen interns grow to their full potential and gain the self-confidence needed to live more independently.

“I have experienced a young adult in tears of joy because they have just accepted a job offer and no longer need low-income assistance,” Seljan said. “They have not only helped themselves grow but taught me that a job is so much more than a paycheck. It is a chance to make your mark, belong to a community and contribute to society. That is huge.”

As UAMS Project SEARCH finishes its eighth year, nearly 75 percent of the more than 82 interns who have completed the program have had jobs waiting for them, including many who found full-time employment with benefits.

Family and friends of Project SEARCH graduates gather in the sanctuary of St. Andrew's Methodist Church.

Family and friends of Project SEARCH graduates gather in the sanctuary of St. Andrew’s Methodist Church.Image by Evan Lewis

Of these, many have had obtained employment at the time of graduation, and the majority found jobs within a few months of graduating. Employers include UAMS, Dillard’s Inc., Arkansas Children’s, CHI St. Vincent, Cintas, Hocotts Nursery and the Maumelle Center on the Lake, just to name a few.

Le Ann Robertson, UAMS Project SEARCH instructor/coordinator, handed each intern a certificate. The graduates then got a chance to take a few minutes to describe their internships and to thank their mentors, supervisors and families as well as express their appreciation for the program.

This year’s UAMS Project SEARCH graduates are: Unard Bush Jr., Marshall Neal, Matthew Henley Greenwalt,  Donna Pelle, Joe Randall, Jodarius Riggins and Molly Stump.

The chancellor said UAMS remains committed to Project SEARCH and its ninth class of interns in the fall.

“At UAMS, we talk a lot about our values,” Patterson said at the conclusion of the graduation. “Hearing those inspirational stories reminds me of a couple of key values. One of which has been a long-standing focus for us, diversity. Don’t these kids demonstrate the power of diversity and what it brings to our communities? The second is a value we’ve talked about only recently. That’s resiliency. Nobody can say these young adults don’t demonstrate all the attributes of resiliency. We are so proud of you.”