Project SEARCH graduates show their courageBy KIMBERLY HOUGHTON
Union Leader Correspondent June 19. 2012 11:26PM
The students, from Nashua and other southern New Hampshire communities, graduated Monday as the Project SEARCH Class of 2012.
The 10 graduates are clients of The PLUS Company, which completed a school-to-work program that partners young adults with intellectual disabilities with an intensive, nine-month internship program at St. Joseph Hospital.
'Life is about choices and challenges,' Mayor Donnalee Lozeau told the graduates during a special ceremony at the hospital. Each student chose to be a part of the internship program, and although they likely crossed many challenges along the way, they accomplished a tremendous feat and should be incredibly proud, Lozeau told the crowd.
In addition to graduating from Project SEARCH, seven of the 10 participants also received their high school diplomas and were recognized for their hard work and dedication.
'I don't know about y'all, but I am ready to go,' said an enthusiastic Tyler Gauthier, who had the crowd laughing during his speech. 'Time to get a job.'
Gauthier thanked his parents for challenging him and pushing him to be the best student he could be.
Gauthier, like the other nine program graduates, is a young adult with cognitive and physical disabilities transitioning from high school to the real world. Through the internship, students learned health care-related skills, including food service, housekeeping, clerical work, indirect care, mail delivery, sterile processing and maintenance of facilities.
'Years ago, individuals with severe disabilities had few employment options. If they worked, it was typically in a segregated sheltered workshop earning less than minimum wage,' said Laurie Corbett, director of career programs for The PLUS Co. 'More recent advances have allowed our profession to demonstrate that with better training strategies and partnerships with employers who are willing to take the chance, individuals with disabilities can work side-by-side with non-disabled employees, earn equal wages and often improve the workplace.'
Corbett described Project SEARCH as a win-win for the interns and the businesses that eventually hire the graduates.
One of the new graduates, Zoya Tavallai, has already accepted a job at St. Joseph Hospital in the cancer center, and said she is honored to be given the opportunity.
'But I can't believe the year is over,' she said sadly.
The graduates were encouraged to pursue their goals, whatever they may be, and the community will ultimately become richer because of it, said Kathleen Rice Orshak, project SEARCH business liaison.
Her comments were echoed by Superintendent Mark Conrad, who praised the class for its commitment in and out of the classroom.
'Not another group of graduates worked this hard or showed this much courage,' he said. 'We knew you could do it.'
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Kimberly Houghton may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.