Leon County’s Project SEARCH Settles Into New Home

By: Leon County Board of Commissioners Press Release
By: Leon County Board of Commissioners Press Release

Tallahassee, Florida --

Project SEARCH, a national employment model designed to help individuals with disabilities gain work experience, be competitive and transition into full-time work, held an Open House on Thursday, September 24 at the recently renovated Courthouse Annex for the new program under the Leon County Board of County Commissioners.

The high-school transition program, which was developed in 1996, takes place in a business setting, where total immersion in the workplace facilitates the teaching and learning process through continuous feedback and acquisition of employability and competitive work skills.

“Leon County is only the third government in the country to host Project SEARCH, and it is the only public or private agency in the Big Bend area that offers this program,” said County Administrator Parwez Alam. “Additionally, the benefits to the County are two-fold: we receive qualified and dedicated interns to assist our very busy staff and to increase work flow, and Leon County citizens acquire experienced professionals within their workforce.”

Project SEARCH offers individualized job development and placement that is ongoing throughout the year and based on the student’s strengths, skills and interests. The local program is based on a partnership between the Leon County Board of County Commissioners, the Florida Agency for Persons with Disabilities, Leon County Schools, Opportunity Services and Vocational Rehabilitation.

In 2004, Project SEARCH was awarded The Secretary of Labor’s New Freedom Initiative Award, and in 2007, it garnered the Division on Career Development and Transition’s National Employer of the Year Award. Project SEARCH was also named “National Best Practices Employer of Individuals with Developmental Disabilities” from the Arizona Governor’s Council on Developmental Disabilities in 2008.

“Leon County is so proud to host this award-winning program here, and we are happy to have Project SEARCH’s students contributing to several of our departments’ and divisions’ workloads,” said Leon County Board of County Commissioners Chairman Bob Rackleff.

Targeted toward students ages 18-22 in their last year of high school, Project SEARCH provides students with support through on-the-job coaching and work-site accommodations with the ultimate goals of securing employment and self sufficiency.

The students also participate in monthly progress meetings to define their career goals and plan the necessary steps to achieve them.

“I believe it is important to provide students with disabilities the same opportunity as their peers – a chance to learn, grow and be successful in the workforce,” said Project SEARCH Coordinator LaKendra Cunningham. “Leon County is proud to be a part of such an innovative and remarkable program."

Project SEARCH students receive assistance from job coaches provided by Opportunity Services and support from Leon County Schools, including a homeroom teacher. There are also transitioning resources available from the Agency of Persons with Disabilities and Vocational Rehabilitation.

Project SEARCH instructor Susan Womble said this is a perfect example of government making a difference in the lives of students with disabilities.

“They are transitioning from a high-school setting to real-world setting and given an opportunity to gain invaluable experience interning at County facilities,” said Womble. “In short, a lot of organizations join hands to make Project SEARCH

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