Project SEARCH Helps Young Adults With Disabilities Develop Job Skills

For young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, finding a job can be challenging. And It’s tough to learn the social skills needed in a work setting in a classroom. That’s why the Project SEARCH program at UConn in Farmington exists.

Wednesday the five interns in the class of 2019 graduated after spending months in an innovative rotational program specifically designed to help them make their transition to the real world.

“I was not sure if I was gonna be able to make it through graduation and not be capable of working, but I proved myself wrong by doing that,” said graduate Justin Thorns from Harwinton.

Thorns and his four Project SEARCH peers have spent 30 weeks working at different UConn Health departments, with one goal in mind.

“The goal is 100 percent employment,” said Sandy Finnimore who manages the program. “We hope that all of our interns will get placed somewhere in a job that they enjoy making a competitive wage and in an inclusive environment.”

The graduates participated in three 10-week-long internships learning skills to help them get jobs and succeed at them.

“How to like pay attention and keep busy, and manage my time,” said Project SEARCH graduate Marcus Apter from West Hartford.

Even though he made it to the end, Apter hopes the learning doesn’t stop after graduation.

“My dream job would be in an office setting,” he said. “But I would like to do anything and learn different kinds of skills.”

Project SEARCH Executive Director Stephen Morris the program at UConn has a 94 percent job placement success rate.

“You can’t learn social skills that are required at a job in a classroom, you spend time on the job and that’s what our interns are doing that’s why our program is so successful,” said Morris.

Out of the 45 programs like it across the country, Morris says the program at UConn is the most successful.

Project SEARCH was founded in 1996 at the Cincinnati Children's Hospital, and it’s designed for students either in their last year of high school or graduates in their first year out of school.

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