OAKLAND -- Project SEARCH of Alameda County, a program that gives internship experience to adults with developmental disabilities, honored nine members of its third graduating class at the Board of Supervisors chambers Thursday.

Project SEARCH is a yearlong internship that provides full workplace immersion with a combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and on-the-job training. A joint venture among East Bay Innovations, the Oakland Unified School District, and Alameda County, the program's goal is to expose interns to careers, build resumes and to attain employment using skills they have acquired.

"I loved getting to meet new people and learn new skills, like how to work in an office and how to communicate better," said Marcos Dimas, 22, of Richmond, a member of the graduating class. "I was a person that would always doubt myself, but with the motivation of my coaches, the program has made me more confident."

Dimas has secured a job ¿with the Auditor-Controller/Clerk-Recorder's office and was one of two members of the current class who have found employment.

The other graduates are Christina Apel, Scott Beaton, Julian Dupuis, Allen Huang, Samara Metz, Michael Morales, Martha Ortiz, and Gloriana Sorensen.


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Interns participate in the program from 9 a.m. to 3:15 p.m. Monday through Friday. Every day begins with an hour of class, then work,¿ and finally a short debriefing session where feedback is given. To receive a range of experience, interns complete assignments with three different county departments during their yearlong stint.

"Upon graduation, interns are prepared for employment by being given experience," said Tom Heinz, founder of East Bay Innovations. "After the program, interns are being hired, working for the county or in health care.

"While our interns are mostly landing clerical positions after finishing the program, jobs of this caliber are pretty rare for individuals with developmental disabilities and autism."

Heinz said 85 percent of people with intellectual disabilities and autism are unemployed nationally and of those 15 percent with jobs, only half make over the national minimum wage.

The Alameda County program began in 2009 and is the first public sector Project SEARCH in California. Project SEARCH began in 1996 at Cincinnati's Children's Hospital and has since become modeled on the international level.

Brendon Woods, the Alameda County Public Defender, worked with an intern on a daily basis and hired her permanently after she graduated from the program.

"This is an amazing program, run by amazing people for amazing people," Woods said.

Joel Sidney, 31, of Piedmont, a Project SEARCH graduate and UC Berkeley alumni, performed with his guitar before the ceremony. He is also the first individual with a developmental disability to be hired by the county. He works in human resources at the Sheriff's Office.

"Project SEARCH gives valuable work and lifetime skills that you can apply to other settings," Sidney said. "I liked getting job experience and learning other skills, such as workplace behavior."

Project SEARCH also partners with and has host sites at Kaiser Permanente and the Oakland Children's Hospital.

PROJECT SEARCH
Anyone interested in learning more about Project SEARCH, should call Lori Kotsonas at 510-618-1580 ext. 15 or go to eastbayinnovations.org. For those interested in participating in the Alameda County Project SEARCH program, contact the Diversity Programs Unit at 510-272-3895, or visit http://www.acgov.org/cao/diversity.