National program offers employment training for local students who have disabilities

When Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority (OCCMHA) employee Roz Kenroy attended a Project SEARCH conference in Cincinnati, Ohio four years ago, she had no idea that the journey would connect her to professional associates back home who shared her interest in employment training opportunities for students who have disabilities.

Like Roz, they too wanted to learn more about Project SEARCH, a transition-related initiative that teaches young people with developmental disabilities to work successfully within their business communities.

“After hearing Project Search Co-founder Erin Riley speak at a Self-Determination conference, I knew that the innovative program would produce positive employment outcomes for Oakland County students who have disabilities,” explains Kenroy. “My colleagues throughout the county obviously shared my enthusiasm, because we were well represented in Cincinnati.”

Project SEARCH works by forming a collaborative effort between local school districts, businesses and Community Mental Health organizations to provide firsthand, job-training experiences for students who have developmental disabilities.

Supporting members of Oakland County’s Project Search team include: Oakland County Community Mental Health (OCCMHA), Michigan Rehabilitation Services (MRS), Oakland Schools, New Horizons, Jewish Vocational Services (JVS), Macomb Oakland Regional Center (MORC), Community Living Services (CLS), Jardon/Hazel Park Schools District, Troy School District, West Bloomfield School District, Henry Ford Health Systems West Bloomfield Campus, Beaumont Health Systems Troy Campus.

Project SEARCH is by far one of the coolest programs I’ve been involved with in my thirty years in education,” says Cathy Schmidt of Oakland County Community Schools. “It’s an opportunity for students who have participated in work based experiences through their school programs to move to the next level of training and preparation for employment.”

Students who are in their last year of school eligibility attend class within the host business. The school districts provide the teachers; MRS provides funding for the Job Coaches; JVS and New Horizons provide the job coaches; and the hospitals provide the classroom space and the internships. Students work at the site with teachers or career coaches each day to learn about jobs within the business that match their individual skills and interests.

Twenty-two students are currently participating in Project SEARCH internship trainings at Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital and Troy Beaumont Hospital. The students began their Project Search endeavor in September, 2011, and will fulfill their commitment to the program in June 2012. At the end of the year, participating businesses have the option of hiring students who were the most successful in learning their responsibilities.

“We have seen incredible growth in confidence and maturity in the student interns. Success in the Project SEARCH program provides a giant leap in improving the employment opportunities for these young adults,” adds Schmidt.

A statewide Project SEARCH Summit to discuss and share ideas about expanding the program throughout Michigan is scheduled for June 26, 2012 in Ann Arbor, Michigan.

The Oakland County Community Mental Health Authority is a public mental health system that provides services and supports to approximately 20,000 Oakland County residents, including adults and children with developmental disabilities, adults with serious mental illness, and children with serious emotional disturbance.

OCCMHA’s network of service providers include: Common Ground, Community Living Services, Community Network Services, Easter Seals Michigan, MORC, Oakland Family Services, Peer Choices, Inc., and Training and Treatments Innovations. For more information about OCCMHA call (800) 341-2003 or visit