On the Right Track
Special Needs Program Project SEARCH Helps a Childhood Dream Come True
Ever since PJ was a child, he had an admiration for trains.
“Since birth, PJ absolutely loved trains. It probably started with Thomas the Tank Engine,” says Noemi, PJ’s mom. “He really wanted to work as an engineer; it was his ‘train dream.’”
It is not uncommon for people on the autism spectrum to have intense and highly-focused interests, often from a fairly young age. Fortunately, PJ found that his dream of working in the train industry came true after his year-long participation in Project SEARCH. Project SEARCH is a nationally- recognized, one-year high school transition program, which provides training and education with the goal of competitive, integrated employment for students with disabilities.
This collaborative program, of which JFCS is the Community Rehabilitation Provider, started in South Jersey in September 2016 through Kennedy Health (now Jefferson Health).
“I loved our experience with Project SEARCH,” said Noemi. “It is a wonderful program. Considering
the help PJ needed, everyone was all-hands-on- deck. The entire Project SEARCH team was very supportive and patient.”
Before he landed his job in the train industry, PJ participated in three 12-week internship rotationsin different departments within Jefferson Health. He learned to write letters of application and compile a resume, honed interviewing techniques, and gained transferable skills. PJ monitored machines in the boiler room, retrieved orders from a handheld device, and completed hardware diagnostics during his internship.
“PJ was always consistent in receiving high scores from his department mentors on work-related behaviors,” noted Janeene Martin, JFCS Employment Specialist for the Project SEARCH Program. “PJ was eager to apply all his experiences
and training in the workforce.” PJ would soon realize that his skills and work ethic, along with guidance from the Project SEARCH team, would put him on the right track to his dream job.
“JFCS was able to connect PJ with a job opportunity as a courier with Edens Corporation, a partner organization with SEPTA. Now PJ gets to work in a job where he is riding the rails all day long, three days a week, from 9 AM – 4 PM. He even rides a train into work,” Noemi says with pride. “His job is to ride the train to various locations, and to deliver important documents to the staff there.”
Headquartered in Philadelphia, PA, Edens Corporation provides a variety of services to include paratransit transportation and ticketing throughout the Philadelphia region.
“One of the biggest rewards,” says Noemi, “is that PJ is coming out of his shell. PJ used to keep to himself a lot, but now he comes home to relay that he spoke up and asked for help on something. He is always pleased to share what he has learned, and how willing the staff is to assist him. Every day, his confidence in himself, and in his abilities, shows. If any parent is on the fence about a program like this, they shouldn’t be. They should just do it. Project SEARCH offers so much support to all the participants … there are just so many benefits.” PJ, when asked to choose two things he liked most about his job, said, “I like interacting with people and being independent.” Riding the trains, it goes without saying, is of course at the top of his list.
The Project SEARCH Program occurs on-site at Jefferson Cherry Hill Hospital, and is a collaboration of community partners including JFCS, Jefferson Health, Y.A.L.E. School in Cherry Hill, New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services (DVRS), and New Jersey Division of Developmental Disabilities (DDD). For more information on Project SEARCH, call Janeene Martin at (856) 424-1333, Ext. 3275. To learn more about all of the special needs programming JFCS offers, visit www.jfcssnj.org/special-needs.