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Project SEARCH

Project SEARCH LogoProject SEARCH is a high school or young adult transition initiative which is a business-led, one-year, school-to-work program that combines classroom instruction, career exploration, and relevant job-skills training through strategically designed internships for students with intellectual and other developmental disabilities (I/DD).

As of May 5, 2021, here is a list of the current sites in North Carolina.

  • Alamance Regional Medical Center
  • Atrium Health Pineville (changing to Novant Health- Huntersville)
  • Carolinas Health – Mercy
  • Carolinas Health – Union
  • Durham Regional Hospital
  • Embassy Suites – Cary/RDU
  • Mission Health (changing to AB Tech)
  • Moses Cone Hospital
  • Novant Health – Brunswick
  • UNC Adams School of Dentistry
  • Vidant Medical Center – Greenville
  • Wake Forest Baptist Health – High Point
  • Southwestern Community College

Watch for new sites coming soon in North Carolina.

Questions? Contact Kristy Brinson, Project SEACH State Coordinator for North Carolina

Office: 919-855-3529, Mobile: 910-271-2878

[email protected] 

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Why is NCCDD funding this initiative?Goal 1 of the new Five Year Plan: Increase financial security through asset development for individuals with I/DD.

  • The Office of Disability Employment Policy indicates the employment rate for youth with disabilities is significantly less than youth without disabilities (60-70 % less).
  • Work-based learning promotes problem solving and adult thinking.
  • Young people with disabilities have limited access to many of the venues for teens such as sports, clubs or after school jobs that build employment skills.
  • Project SEARCH is a unique transition to work program that utilizes partnerships among business, education, vocational rehabilitation, families and community supported employment agencies to teach employment skills and support workers as they learn a new job.
  • Project SEARCH defines employment as 16 hours or more of year-round work in an integrated setting at a prevailing wage.
  • This initiative supports NCCDD's Goal 1 of the Five Year Plan: Increase financial security through asset development for individuals with I/DD.

What are the major goals and objectives?

  • Project SEARCH began as a single site at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in 1996.
  • Project SEARCH staff have established over 400 program sites in the US and internationally.
  • There are currently 12 Project SEARCH sites in North Carolina that offer the following resources:
    - Skills training and employment support for young adults with disabilities
    - Training for families to support their knowledge of the transition process and encourage active participation in job development
    - A Project SEARCH curriculum, lesson plans, other resources to develop individual employability skills
    - Exploration of new ways to partner with the post-secondary educational system to improve the overall knowledge, skill level and life experience of our interns.

What has taken place since the start of the program? (Activities)

  • Each licensed Project SEARCH site serves 6-12 young people with disabilities each year. Most participants are 18 to 22 years and have completed their high school credits. Some participants are enrolled in community colleges in North Carolina.
  • The participants spend one school year rotating through at least 3 internships at a host business. They are immersed in the host business and receive consistent support from an instructor and job coach(es).
  • In addition to on-site internships, participants receive classroom instruction at the host business for a portion of the day.
  • The Project SEARCH team recruits students, engages businesses, provides instruction, and works with partners to support the student intern during the internship program.

What has been achieved to date?

  • 17 of 26 graduates from the class of 2014 obtained competitive employment (16 hours per week, non-seasonal, community-based).
  • 51 young people with disabilities enrolled in the program for the school year 2014-15 (an increase from 26 the prior year).
  • 21 young people have obtained employment as of June 30, 2015. Job placement activities continue for all graduates not placed.
  • Each program held public awareness events this quarter, which resulted in over 5600 persons learning about Project SEARCH and employment for people with disabilities.
  • Some Project SEARCH programs utilize Business Advisory Councils (BAC) who connect with other local businesses that have an interest in hiring entry-level workers with competencies acquired by the Project SEARCH interns.

What long-term changes are expected as a result of this initiative?

  • Increase skills acquisition and employment outcomes for young people with disabilities through the implementation of the Project SEARCH model.
  • Offer new models that can change the business culture to include workers with disabilities.
  • Create natural opportunities for service systems such as education, vocational rehabilitation, community supported employment agencies, and families to work together to create systems change for employment of individuals with disabilities.

How can I get involved?

Visit the national Project SEARCH website (http://www.projectsearch.us/) for information about how to implement Project SEARCH in your community or to find a program near you.

Who is the contractor?

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Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center

Who can I contact for questions?

Grantee: Susie Rutkowski, [email protected]

NCCDD: Philip C. Woodward, Systems Change Manager, [email protected]


Additional Resources

Project SEARCH was featured in the Duke Regional Hospital’s 40 year anniversary video.  Please click on the following link to access the video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PCsj4gB7b-I&t=22s&index=3&list=PLfRR_mvdRqOWa5x98mMM3ApicEO_3ZvMD

Project SEARCH is mentioned (at the 11:00 minute mark) in the annual diversity training video for Duke employees. Here is the link: https://web.duke.edu/equity/toolkit/

Click here to download a one pager of this initiative.


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North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities

Office Hours: 9AM-4PM Monday-Friday
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This project was supported, in part by grant number 2001NCSCDD-02, from the U.S. Administration for Community Living, Department of Health and Human Services, Washington, D.C. 20201. Grantees undertaking projects with government sponsorship are encouraged to express freely their findings and conclusions. Points of view or opinions do not, therefore, necessarily represent official ACL policy.

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