Keesler strengthens community ties with Project SEARCH

  • Published
  • By Airman 1st Class Elizabeth Davis
  • 81st Training Wing Public Affairs

Keesler kicked off their partnership with Project SEARCH, an organization that aims to secure competitive employment for people with disabilities, on Aug. 8.

The program connects local school districts with governmental & non-governmental organizations that allow high school students with a disability to do internships and learn critical job skills.

The students are chosen to participate in the program by coordinators in the local school district. The process for selecting the students is extensive, and often involves support from family members.

“The parents of these students, now interns, have been especially excited about this opportunity since day one,” said April Rice, Biloxi school district special services director. “It gives them a real glimpse of what the future could look like for their kids.”

Keesler is ready to host its first set of interns as one of the first few Air Force bases to adapt the program.

Gerald Cross, 81st Force Support Squadron school liaison officer, has been committed to bringing this program to Keesler ever since he heard about it.

“I immediately took interest, did some research on it and thought that it would be a really good fit for Keesler,” said Cross.

During the planning process, Project SEARCH received support from leadership and units across base. Seven squadrons in the 81st Medical Group offered to host an intern, as well as three sections of the 81st FSS and the 81st Security Forces Squadron.

The interns will rotate through three different units in 10-week blocks from August through May.

The squadrons are prepared to employ the interns in various cleaning, food preparation, clerical and customer service roles.

The value of these positions lies in the opportunity for the interns to gain transferrable and adaptable job experience, a strategy designed to prepare them for life after high school.

“What is going to make them successful in all of this is that it's a continual training process,” said Cross. “These students go in and do internships to learn critical job skills with the ultimate goal being for them to become employed somewhere.”

Keesler will look at potentially employing some of the students after their internships have concluded.

“Keesler has a strong bond with the local community off base, so we’re looking forward to having these students become part of our on-base community.” said Col. William Hunter, 81st Training Wing commander. “We’re excited to participate in the program and look forward to the successes that come from it.”