Project Search in Brookings helps young adults get ready for the workplace

Program helps with the transition

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BROOKINGS — For high school graduates hoping to go straight into the work force, getting a job right away can be a challenge. For the student with a disability, there’s an extra step in the challenge. Helping students take that extra step is the mission of SDSU/Brookings Project Search, which bills itself as “A High School Transition Program.”

“We are tailored more toward young adults who are 18 to 21,” explained JaColby Anderson, Project Search coordinator. “We are a transition program that provides opportunities for young adults with disabilities, who would qualify in an interview (with a selection committee) if they apply and are accepted into the program. What we are trying to help them do is get transferable job skills.” Applicants who are graduating from Brookings area high schools are eligible to apply; however, they will not be considered to have graduated until they complete Project Search, which runs about nine months and follows the school district calendar.

Those applicants who are accepted — and designated “interns” — will undergo three 10- to 12-week “rotations,” with each rotation being a different job experience.

“When they go from one rotation to the next, each job experience cannot be the same, “Anderson explained. “Our goal is that by May, once they get through their three rotations, is to get them employed — whether it’s manufacturing, fast food, on campus at SDSU through different entities. It could be anywhere; we could even help them gain employment where they’re originally from. We’ve had interns in the past from Madison who we helped seek employment in Madison, or wherever they’re from.

“We’re just that bridge from the stewardship to the real, living world. Some of our folks that are not quite ready for the real world, that adult working world, we can provide them.”

There are presently six interns completing their second rotation; the program has a capacity for 12 interns. 

“First rotation, we pick where they’re going to go, based on their personality, what we feel would be a good fit,” the coordinator explained. “The second and third rotations, the interns get to pick where they’d like to try and experience some sort of job, whether it’s Falcon Plastics, which is another place we’ve partnered with, aside from SDSU.

“They might decide manufacturing is something they’d like to try. But how do they know that? Well, the only way they know that is to try that rotation.

“What’s unique about our program is when they do attempt to try a rotation, they’re allowed to make mistakes and learn. Whereas if you’re a traditional community member that applies for a job and maybe you don’t have those skills, you’re probably going to get fired.

“With our program they learn from their mistakes; we help job-coach and work alongside them and help them develop skills. So when they do leave our program at the end of nine months, we can help ensure that they can maintain or retain those skills when they go on own. After May they can find employment and maintain it.”

You’re the boss

Search Skills Trainer Ann Pavek explains that she “has worked in human services for a long time.” For the interns, she’s the go-to person for the day-to-day workdays of the interns, She sees each of them on a daily basis in the classroom in Larson Commons on the SDSU campus.

“We find them a job,” she said. “It’s probably something they have never done. They learn about managers, co-workers, work rules.

 “They come into our classroom and we have a morning where we sort of prepare for the day. Then they leave and go do their jobs. And I go around and check on them.

“At the end of the day, we meet with them: What did you learn today? What did not go so good? This happened. We talk about it. So they learn from their mistakes; they don’t get in trouble.” And the interns do learn who they are working for.

“We’re community-based,” Pavek explained of her approach to employers. “We’re going to bring you somebody and we’re going to help them. But you’re the boss. You need to tell them what to do. They need to follow the rules. They report to you. We’re just here to support them. They come in and they’re having a bad mood, we can help with that.

“We do that for 12 weeks. The next 12 weeks, a totally different job: new co-workers, new management, new way of living, doing different things. And then they have a third rotation and it’s a another completely different job.”

While the interns per se don’t yet receive a paycheck, they do receive a stipend from “Vocational Rehabilitation.” 

Three different islands

The program is part of and funded through the Brookings School District. Anderson is an employee of the District. He’s also a special education teacher. He is the case manager of each intern.

For the interns, SDSU is going to be their first job rotation: custodial, food service and a variety of jobs on campus. There may also be jobs at Falcon Plastics.

“We can provide opportunities that they probably wouldn’t be able to receive if they were not a part of this program,” Anderson explained. “The benefits of this program allow them to be able to explore different job options and decide whether it’s a good fit.

“But we want them to have that opportunity, because when it comes to May they can reflect back on what job rotation went well, what fit them and they can make that decision pretty easily where they know what they don’t like already, based on their experience.”

Anderson sees the program as being composed of “three different islands” that are needed for completion: Each intern must graduate from high school; next “island” is Project Search; “once they finish our program they hop onto the island of Career Advantage (a program of Advance that provides additional support) or other programs that provide additional support under the Department of Human Services that help them make that seamless transition from one island to next. We are there to support them as long as they need it. We can help them achieve their goals.”

Project Search has a tried and true history here in the Brookings area. The program has been around for about 13 years; Anderson is in his third year with the program.

He and Pavek can see the mission of Project Search in some very simple terms.

“Our goal is to get them ready so they can go apply for a job and get a job.”

For additional information about Project Search, visit its website at: www.sdsubrookingsprojectsearch.org; send an email to JaColby Anderson@k12.sd.us; or call him at 605-688-4407 (office) or 605-695-9052 (cell).

Contact John Kubal at jkubal@brookingsregister.com.