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St. Louis residents with developmental disabilities get help finding employment

(L to R) Jacqueline Jefferson, Robert Hawker and Jane Skinner joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh.
Lara Hamdan | St. Louis Public Radio
(L to R) Jacqueline Jefferson, Robert Hawker and Jane Skinner joined St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh.

An international program with a presence in St. Louis is helping people with intellectual and developmental disabilities find employment.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, people with disabilities are much less likely to be employed: only 27 percent of women aged 16-64, and 34 percent of men in that age group. That’s compared with 68 percent of women and 79 percent of men without disabilities.

In addition, The Arc, a disability rights organization, estimates that the employment rate for people with developmental disabilities is even lower.

Project SEARCH is improving employment numbers among young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. It’s an international organization that prepares the young adults for competitive employment.

In their last year of high school, Project SEARCH students work three internships at a job site, where they also take classes on communication, time management and other practical life skills.

The St. Louis branch of Project SEARCH is operated by Easterseals Midwest. Founded in 2010, participants in the local program train at the VA Hospital in St. Louis and the Embassy Suites in St. Charles. It also hosts programs for young adults who have finished high school at Centene Corporation and at the offices of the City of St. Louis.

Robert Hawker, an alumnus of the program, told St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh about his experience as an intern at the VA Hospital.

“I learned how to use a centrifuge machine,” he said. “I also learned how to sterilize beds, and I also learned how to sterilize wheelchairs too.”

Jacqueline Jefferson, the manager of Project SEARCH St. Louis, said many employers don’t realize the talents of prospective employees with disabilities, particularly of Project SEARCH graduates.

“We have top-of-the-line talent,” she said. “We have a pool of individuals that have attended an intense, nine-month workforce training program.”

After his internships at Project SEARCH, Hawker found a job at Lumière Hotel, where he currently works as a bell attendant.

“I get some tips,” he said, “I have a lot of friends and I get to meet people from all over the place.”

According to Jane Skinner, director of Pre-Employment Services at Easterseals Midwest, Hawker’s story is one of many successes. Since its founding in 2010, Project SEARCH St. Louis has worked with 85 students, 59 of whom found employment through the program.

For people at a business interested in working with Project SEARCH, Jefferson invites you to call her at (314) 327-2456.

St. Louis on the Air brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. St. Louis on the Air host Don Marsh and producers Mary EdwardsAlex Heuer and Lara Hamdan give you the information you need to make informed decisions and stay in touch with our diverse and vibrant St. Louis region.

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