All stories in this directory may be used free of charge by news media sites, provided credit is given to the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau. Use the URL from this page to bookmark this article, send it to a friend, or link to it from your blog.
Program helps Ohioans with disabilities train for jobs, get experience
By Maggie Prosser
(March 26, 2019) — Amid stacks of seasonal women’s shoes, Gov. Mike DeWine and participants in a job-facilitation program met Tuesday to discuss employment opportunities for disabled Ohioans.
At the East Side DSW Distribution Center, adult participants in Project SEARCH, an international program that partners with businesses to train people with disabilities, learn about the warehouse and logistics industry. By the end of a 24-week program, the interns emerge job-ready.
“When you started your first job, remember how nervous you were; you didn’t know anyone, you didn’t know how to do it,” Jeff Girard of DSW said. “That’s how the interns are. They go into an area: It’s a new job, they have to learn the people, they have to learn the process.”
Interns work in various departments at the distribution center during their daily 6 a.m.-to-1:30 p.m. shifts: unboxing shoes and shipping containers, unloading and loading trucks, making boxes, auditing and repacking. More than 250,000 shoes are shipped out of the center daily.
At the end of the shifts, interns convene for an “employability skills” meeting. They’re mentored on workplace behavior, budgeting, leadership and social skills.
“I’ve been here two years, and I love it,” said intern Santino Kausky. “Everyone is nice and chill.” In Ohio alone, there are more than 40 Project SEARCH affiliates.
As of January, 56 interns have graduated from the program at DSW and moved on to full-time jobs. The distribution center is one of only a few adult-intern sites; the rest are geared toward high school students. Project SEARCH Co-Director Susie Rutkowski stressed to DeWine the importance of opening more of these collaborations for adults, especially in underserved areas.
DeWine allocated approximately $166 million per year in state and federal resources to vocational-rehabilitation services, according to a spokeswoman with the state disabilities department. He made employment for the disabled an early priority for his administration, signing an executive order on hiring practices and job development for the disabled in his first few minutes as governor and recognizing March as Developmental Disability Awareness Month.
Since joining Project SEARCH, a few interns and graduates have bought cars and begun living on their own. When asked by DeWine what the best part of the job was, participants at Tuesday’s meeting overwhelmingly said they like “getting paid,” “making new friends” and being independent.