LAWRENCE — The transition from the safe environment of high school to the realities of the working world can be rough for anyone, but add a developmental disability and the road to the real world can be that much bumpier.
To help navigate that path, one local program soon will begin its fourth year steering young people with special needs toward independence.
Project Search, started in Lawrence in 2011, is a collaboration among Lawrence public schools, local businesses and social service agencies. The groups work together to find permanent jobs for recent high school graduates with developmental disabilities.
Project Search participants begin the year-long program in August with a two-week orientation, then they go into the community for their first internships at participating businesses and organizations .
Students start each day by learning employability skills from and then begin tasks at their worksites. The students spend the next four hours on the job before regrouping in the afternoon to review what they’ve learned.
Tracey Norris, a Project Search instructor with Free State High School, said students change internships three times throughout the year so they develop a broad skill set, new interests and a belief in themselves.
Stephen Thawngmung finished the program this spring.
“I’ve been through a lot because of how others view my disability,” Thawngmung, 20, said. “I’ve struggled with depression and self-esteem, but Project Search gave me confidence and helped me be happy with life in general.”