Project SEARCH interns graduate, secure jobs with KU, Lawrence Memorial Hospital

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A staff member described this year’s graduates from the Lawrence school district’s program for young adults with disabilities as “our group of character.”

Nine student interns graduated from Project SEARCH on Thursday morning and will soon enter the workforce. Family, friends, district administrators, school board members, mentors and program partners gathered at the Community Connections at Pinckney building to celebrate them.

“I would like to thank Janet, Becky and all the Project SEARCH staff for giving me this opportunity to go to this program and giving me everything I need to go further in life, of course,” said graduate Jackson Martin.

“This has been a long year, it’s been a long journey. We’ve had up and downs in this journey, we’ve had the tough times, we’ve had the great times.”

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Jackson Martin

Interns acquired job experience working in several areas at Lawrence Memorial Hospital — such as materials management, education, facilities, therapy, and food and nutrition — and the University of Kansas, including dining services, recycling, preventative maintenance, landscaping and Monarch Watch. 

They received employability skills training aimed at supporting their transitions and connecting them with businesses in the community.

Joy Song, 2024 Project SEARCH graduate, said she was glad to have met new people while interning at LMH and learned new job skills.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Joy Song

Some of the graduates have now been permanently hired at jobs where they interned while in Project SEARCH, and others are in progress to secure employment or explore career paths.

A video shown during the ceremony reviewed memories from throughout the year. Outside of site-based internships, interns went on trips to local spots such as Mass Street Soda, Java Break, Royal Crest Lanes, Pet World and more.

Tracey Norris, Project SEARCH coordinator, told graduates that even though they’ve completed the program, she and other staff will continue cheering them on.

“I kind of have a theme each year for our group, and I believe this group is our group of character,” Norris said. “We’ve all been talking about how hard it’s going to be to let this group of interns go because you’re just such a wonderful group of people. So wherever you are in your journey, you’re right where you’re meant to be, and we’re here with you as you take those next steps.”

In addition to its graduates, Project SEARCH on Thursday honored two of its partners, KU and LMH. KU’s HVAC filter crew and grounds crew both received the KU Work Site of the Year award.

Martin worked closely with the grounds crew, who was present to accept their award, and said he and the crew worked with grass and did weeding, trimming and leaf-blowing around campus. One time, he got to press his handprint into wet cement.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Jackson Martin, right, stands with KU’s ground crew as the crew accepts an award.

“I’ll tell you, cement is wet,” Martin said, followed by laughter throughout the crowd. “First of all, it is not easy to put your hands in cement.”

LMH’s health and nutrition department as well as the department’s worksite mentor Dan Dan Gaus were also awarded. 

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Treven Gill

“There are so many things I love about Project SEARCH,” said graduate Treven Gill. “I love getting to work in the different departments in KU and at LMH.”

Other graduates include Brandon Landes, Atticus Dunlap, Eliot Johnson, Stephen Lee, Henry Bolton and Tony Weddell.

To conclude Thursday’s ceremony, graduates welcomed and gave name tag lanyards to four incoming Project SEARCH student interns, who are graduating this year from the district’s Community Transition (C-Tran) program.

More students graduating from Lawrence and Free State high schools will also be joining the program during the 2024-25 year.

Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Joy Song (left), Trevin Gill and Jackson Martin give speeches at their graduation ceremony.
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times

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Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Lawrence school board Vice President Bob Byers (second from left) and members GR Gordon-Ross and Anne Costello
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Becky Armstrong (left), Brandon Landes and Tracey Norris
Molly Adams / Lawrence Times Becky Armstrong (left), Joy Song and Tracey Norris
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Maya Hodison (she/her), equity reporter, can be reached at mhodison (at) lawrencekstimes (dot) com. Read more of her work for the Times here. Check out her staff bio here.

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