Project SEARCH builds community

Now in its second year at SDSU, Project SEARCH’s presence on campus continues to expand and raise awareness for individuals with disabilities, particularly in October, which is Disability Awareness Month.

The program has not seen any major changes since beginning last year. At the start of each school year, the program accepts a number of interns with disabilities who partake in a variety of job rotations as well as classroom hours, which help equip the interns with skills to enter the workforce upon completion of the program, Kyrsten Zimmerman, job coach, said.

Project SEARCH started the year off with six interns, the same number as last year, but according to Larry Ayres, project coordinator, while they haven’t grown in numbers, geographically speaking the program has expanded. The program now has interns from a wider variety of places, not strictly Brookings.

According to Zimmerman, most of the rotations are the same as last year, with the addition of an office-based rotation with the provost.

“[It’s important] to generate awareness and have an impact on the culture of the campus, and we have been very fortunate in the sense that SDSU has been very welcoming and accepting of our interns,” Zimmerman said.

The campus setting allows the interns to feel integrated with the college lifestyle and affords them the ability to work with a variety of people, Zimmerman said.

“It raises awareness to different types of disabilities…ones that you can see and ones that you can’t,” said Lauren Brown, facilities coordinator at the Wellness Center. The Wellness Center has been a rotation location since the program started, and has worked with a total of three interns.

According to Brown, it takes some time for everyone, both the intern and the student employees, to get comfortable with each other, but ultimately, everyone works well together and ends up “talking non-stop,” Brown said. The staff, including the Project SEARCH interns, ends up forming strong connections Brown said.

Raising awareness on campus and providing the chance for those on campus and the interns to interact in this setting makes Disability Awareness Month important, Ayres said.

“I think that they can see people with disabilities maybe doing things that they thought were out of the stereotypical role of what people with disabilities can do,” Ayres said.

Both Ayres and Zimmerman said that the interns have an impact on the students and staff at the university as well. Overall, the SDSU campus community has been very welcoming and accepting, from the beginning, according to Zimmerman.

“[The Wellness Center has] noticed that our student is really bringing out some of those other student workers … our intern has, unbeknownst to him, has really drawn out this other person and made that other person feel like part of the crowd,” Zimmerman said.

Project SEARCH raises awareness through allowing the SDSU community to see what a student or young adult with a challenge or disability can do, Zimmerman said.

The program inserts the interns into a position of responsibility. Their absence is obvious and “when they aren’t there, someone needs to take their place, they are on the schedule they are part of the team, and when they’re gone they are missed,” Ayres said.

“Our experience has been really good, students always ask, when an intern leaves, when we’ll get the next intern. They enjoy having them here,” Brown said.

On Oct. 27 Project SEARCH will host an information night in the Pheasant Room of The Union. The meeting is meant to inform those on campus and those in the community about what the program has to offer students with disabilities, Ayres said.

“It would be nice to see it continue to grow and educate students about different disabilities…It’s important for us to be able to communicate and work together … It’s good to bring awareness,” Brown said.