Project Search teaches job skills to special-needs teens

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By VICKI BROWN

vbrown@lowcountry.com

The Project Search Transition-to-Work program has returned with new students who are ready, willing and able to learn how to be an employee by training at Walmart.

The program helps special needs teens learn how to gain real-life work experience. Walmart is the training ground for this program. 

This unique program has been successfully utilized throughout the United States and has been beneficial for students with an Individual Educational Program (IEP) at Colleton County High School (CCHS).

“Project Search” assists high school seniors at CCHS who have significant intellectual and developmental disabilities participate in employment preparation for one-year on a job site. The student interns have a combination of classroom instruction, career exploration and hands-on training at a worksite. The goal for each intern is successful employment, so students gain real-life work experience, training and independent-living skills. Teens with special needs are able to transition to productive adult life. 

Special Needs instructor Karen Lockerman implements this program for CCHS.

“I am working with the community to get all of these students’ employment at competitive wages,” said Lockerman. “The main goal is for these young adults be able to survive on their own in life. Too often, especially here in Colleton, our students follow the cycle of waiting for a check and then struggling. These students will be earning their checks and living. Walmart has been so gracious in allowing us to implement our program here,” she said.

The program is a total immersion of job skills, she said. 

According to her, students “come in, clock in and head straight out to their jobs.” Later, they report to the classroom (a room on the job site at Walmart) and work on other skills with Lockerman. Students in the program do receive a paycheck. They also learn how to deposit it, and then practice paying bills by writing checks for rent, lights, food, phone and other necessities. The students also work on computer skills, resume and interview skills, telephone skills, workplace safety, team building and other financial literacy areas to prepare for and maintain employment. 

Since the implementation of the program last year, four out of six teens who participated in the program found employment and are becoming independent. 

Now, the program starts over with a new group of youth.

The new Project Search trainees this year are local teens Brianna Balatbat, Melvina Richardson, Margaretta Perry, Caleb Cox, Jacob Herndon and Nydriea McGee.

“We have asked Jacob Herndon to stay on. He is wonderful; we couldn’t do without him!” said Michelle Chevannes, the Walterboro Wal-Mart employee who is training the students as an intern. Chevannes works in the store’s electronics section. 

Employee Kendra Jennings said she is also delighted to have the kids around and working. 

“These kids work so hard…some of them work harder than the regular employees. They are great to have around and very helpful. More employers should hire them when they leave the program,” she said.

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