Project SEARCH prepares area students with disabilities for employment

EAU CLAIRE, Wis. (WEAU)- State representatives met with local high school students, who are participating in Project SEARCH, an internship program for students with disabilities.

At the end of May, 11 local high school students will have completed the first Project SEARCH program in Eau Claire.

“It’s fantastic,” said Arthur Holte, a Project SEARCH intern.

Project SEARCH is a unique, school-to-work program for students with disabilities. Right now, students come to Mayo Clinic Health System, to learn hands-on skills to prepare them for employment, five days a week. Monday, state Representatives Warren Petryk and Rob Summerfield had the chance to meet these students.

This is the first year of the program in Eau Claire; and Project SEARCH instructors say they hope it helps students to become independent.

“There’s other transition programs in high schools, but the unique thing about Project SEARCH is that its business-led, the interns do not go to their high school, they come to a business site, they receive orientation other Mayo employees receive; its real life and prepares them for life after high school,” said Tim Burns, the program instructor and teacher with Eau Claire Area School District.

And that's exactly what intern Holte wants to accomplish: being independent, all on his own.

“Just coming to work every day, being out of school,” he said. “What I really want to be is a hard-working man.”

The students rotate every ten weeks to a new department.

Vicki Tjelta, a mother of one of the interns, says it’s an opportunity that has blessed her family.

“He’s just matured so much and just very diligent about wanting to do a good job and be an adult and work like a worker,” she said. “That immaturity of high school has really gone away.”

The program is sponsored by a handful of community businesses and organizations.

Currently students are in the final-leg of the program. Their last day working is May 31st.

During the internship, they also have people helping students fill out job applications, with the goal that they can walk into a job right after completion.

Gundersen Health System in La Crosse is also looking to start the Project SEARCH program. They held an open house Monday night on their La Crosse campus for those interested in learning more.

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