Beginning in September, local high school students with disabilities will have a new vocational training option thanks to a collaboration among four local organizations. Aspire of WNY, Summit Educational Resources and Beechwood Continuing Care, with funding from The Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation, are replicating a national program to create a new vocational training opportunity for Western New York high school students with disabilities.
The initiative, Western New York Project Search®Collaborative, is a business- led partnership that offers a school-to-work program alternative for students with disabilities who are in their last year of high school. Project Search is an international program started in 1996 in Cincinnati that currently operates more than 150 program sites in 42 states and four countries. The program is approved by the New York State Education Department and focuses on transitional education and takes place entirely at the workplace. The person-centered philosophy of Project Search® helps students build skills that will lead to a career and allow them to graduate with a work certificate.
Beechwood Continuing Care and its affiliates Asbury Pointe and Blocher Homes, will serve as the business partner for Western New York Project Search Collaborative. These homes will provide a classroom for the 12 participating students at their Amherst locations. Enrolled students will attend the program for one full school year (September – June). The classroom will be staffed by a teacher, teacher aides and job coach (provided by Aspire) who will meet the educational and training needs of the students. In addition, a Beechwood employee will serve as a mentor for the students. Upon successful completion of the program students may be offered employment at Beechwood in the job that aligns with the skills they’ve learned.
“We are very proud to be working with our neighbors at Aspire and Summit on this project and believe it will make a difference in the lives of people with developmental disabilities who want the opportunity to work in a professional, supportive environment,” said Robert Meiss, President and CEO of Beechwood Continuing Care. “We look forward to welcoming the students to Beechwood and to the day they will become part of our staff.”
A three-year grant for $267,894 from The Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation will cover expenses associated with personnel expenses, administrative costs, training and technical support. “The support we received from The Peter and Elizabeth C. Tower Foundation was essential in helping to move this project forward and we greatly appreciate their commitment,” said Thomas Sy, Executive Director of Aspire of WNY.
Summit Educational Resources will provide a part time coordinator responsible for student recruitment. Students interested in participating in this new program program may apply through their local school district.
“Project Search® has many regional opportunities and we hope to develop future sites in Western New York once this initial project is successfully implemented,” said Stephen R. Anderson, Ph.D., Chief Executive Officer of Summit Educational Resources.
By combining real-life work experience, with training in employment and independent living skills, the goal for each of the students it to obtain competitive, integrated employment. “Our hope for the project is that we will start to address the staggering unemployment rate of 85% for people with developmental disabilities,” said Tom Sy, Executive Director of Aspire of WNY. “Nearly 2,000 students graduate from high school each year wanting employment but face many obstacles achieving this goal. We are excited about Project Search® and this wonderful collaboration.”