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Howard County's 2017 Project SEARCH interns graduate

Howard County's 2017 Project SEARCH interns graduate
Student Julian Than interned at the Savage Branch library as part of Howard County Public Schools' Project Search, which celebrated its third year of graduates. (Courtesy photo/howard county public)

When Columbia resident Maria Than's son Julian was younger, he didn't speak. So when his name was called to shake County Executive Allan Kittleman hand and receive his certificate of completion from Project SEARCH, a workplace transition training program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities, she said she couldn't believe it.

"I never thought I'd see him get that certificate," said Than, whose son is a senior at Wilde Lake High School. "To have him finish this program is unbelievable."

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Dozens of family members, teachers and local elected officials gathered in the George Howard Building's Banneker room on June 9 to watch Julian and 11 peers graduate from the program. Project SEARCH, a national organization, is in its third year in Howard County.

"You guys have helped us be better, you have helped us serve our constituents better, you have made us better," Kittleman told the interns. "You have made Howard County a better place to live."

Project SEARCH interns spent the school year working in local government jobs in the Howard County Circuit Court, the County Council and the Department of Health, among others. Many will go on to work in paid positions in public and private-sector jobs in businesses such as Ledo Pizza and Food Lion.

"It makes all the difference … it's not just giving them the skills, because a lot of them have skills that can move from high school to the world of work, but it's those soft skills," said Maryland Secretary of Disabilities Carol Beatty. "Getting along, working as part of a team, knowing when to take lunch and when to take a coffee break and when to come back."

Beatty was present along with Kittleman, School System interim superintendent Michael Martirano and County Council members Calvin Ball and Mary Kay Sigaty.

Martirano called the experience a "tremendous" event for the community.

"It's about equity for all of our students — making sure every child is treated with dignity and respect," he said. "I'm really happy today because this represents that."

In Maryland in 2015, the employment rate for people with disabilities who were ages 21 to 64 was 42 percent, according to a report from Cornell University's School of Industrial and Labor Relations. About 30 percent of people with disabilities in the same age range worked full time.

Burtonsville resident Pam Quintern recently moved from Howard County to Montgomery County so her daughter Rebecca, a 20-year-old Project SEARCH intern, could continue as an adult in the program.

"Without this program, she wouldn't have had all this experience and she would've been one of those kids that fell through the cracks," Quintern said about her daughter, who has Tourette syndrome. "I can't tell you enough what peace of mind it gives you as a mom."

Columbia resident Matthew Martin-Swint, 21, who interned in the Department of Planning and Zoning and was hired permanently in January, said Project SEARCH prepared him for the challenges of the workforce.

"I enjoyed it a lot," he said. "They really loved having me here, and I can't wait to get back to work on Monday."

Irene Kamau remembers her son, Kamau Mbugua, being scared before starting his internship at the county fleet office, which maintains state vehicles. He didn't know anyone, she said, and was nervous to work with strangers.

But Project SEARCH supported him, his mother said, and the Reservoir High School graduate adapted.

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"Kids with disabilities are not well-supported in the community," she said. "Therefore when they have somewhere they can relate, and they have people that can understand what they are going through and also prepare them for their future, it is so great."



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