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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Project Search Arizona prepares disabled young adults to enter workforce

Noelle R. Haro-Gomez/ Arizona Daily Wildcat Miriam Sigala, 18, works in the clothing department in the UA Bookstore.

A nationwide program is putting to work local high school students with developmental disabilities in various UA departments.

Project Search Arizona is a national program that prepares high school students and young adults with developmental disabilities to be competitive in the workforce by providing them with hands-on job experience.

The UA initiated the program in 2009, through Sonoran University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disability and partnering with the University of Arizona Medical Center — South Campus until this year. The program has since expanded to the center’s main campus and the student affairs division on the main UA campus. Through the UA’s division, students are interning at the UofA Bookstore, the Student Recreation Center, and the Student Union Memorial Center.

“The main focus is to train young people for different types of employment and to provide them skills that will help make them successful and competitive employers in the community,” said Laura Schweers, the program coordinator.

The interns, Schweers said, learn in-depth about different types of work and employment positions, and then apply that toward getting comfortable within a real, functioning work environment.

“The program is not a continuation of high school, but it’s about putting it behind them and changing their expectation of themselves and their future,” Schweers said.

Interns begin their day at 8 a.m. with an academic session, focusing on budgeting, social skills and communications. The class is followed by a five-hour shift at their designated interning position and then another hour of academic session to reflect on the day.

“For some students it’s their first time working in the community, while for others they have some experience,” said Caitlin Yost, a program coordinator at the UAMC’s main campus. “With anyone, regardless if you have a disability or not, experience is key, and that is what we are learning about.”

From the beginning, UAMC administrators have been supportive and accomodating of those participating in the program, said Dan Habinek, an instructor for the main campus program.

“The wonderful thing is that they welcomed us into the Wildcat family,” he said. “They [the UA] have gone the extra mile to make sure our students are comfortable.”

After each rotation is done, interns will then move into a new area of focus, allowing them to get across-the-board experience before graduation, he added.

Mariam Sigala, an 18-year-old student at Tucson Magnet High School interning in the bookstore’s supplies department, said she enjoyed working at the bookstore because it has challenged her to learn about the workforce. Sigala helps out with customer service, pricing and supply stocking.

Chelsea Morrison, Sigala’s supervisor, said Sigala has been a great contribution to the team.

“She is always positive and has a good attitude at work,” Morrison said. “She is really starting to come into her own department and find areas she is comfortable to work in.”

Alana Diaz De Leon, a 19-year-old student at Catalina Foothills High School working in the clothing department at the bookstore, said the real-world aspects of the program have their ups and downs.

“It’s difficult to work with customers but I’m overcoming it,” she said.

Diaz De Leon’s supervisor, Stephanie James, said Diaz De Leon has been very helpful and is always eager to learn.

“It’s really exciting to see these high school students in their environment and see how they interact with customers,” James said.

In the first two years the program was successful at helping 17 out of 23 students either find a part-time or full-time job within the community upon graduation.

“What we love about this program,” Habinek said, “is that it sets students to gain success in the future and it opens doors for them to find employment or marketable options.”

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