SEARCH graduates pave the way
By A1C Jessica Blocher
14th Flying Training Wing Public Affairs
COLUMBUS AIR FORCE BASE, Miss. – Columbus Air Force Base, Lowndes County School District and the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services (MDRS) came together to work with a group called Project SEARCH to give students with disabilities an opportunity to gain work experience.
Project SEARCH is a unique nine-month employment preparation program that gives students with disabilities experience in a hands-on training environment. The training includes employability, real-life work experience and independent living skills to help make successful transitions to productive adult life.
Juwan Woods, Makyia Bibbs and Chandler Blakely graduated from the program May 23, 2023. The students had an opportunity to do part of their real work experience training at the Bowling Alley, Magnolia Inn, the Commissary and Outdoor Recreation at Columbus AFB.
One student, Juwan Woods, already has a job at a local fitness center and has a career plan to become a fitness coach.
“He’s able to do so many things that he was unable to do before this program,” said Nicole Taylor, Juwan’s mother. “He has gained so much confidence. He used to walk around with his head down, but now he makes eye contact when he talks to people.”
The students received a certification of completion of the program and celebrated at a ceremony on base with their friends, family and others who had gathered in support of the students’ efforts.
The dedication and determination these students showed during this last year will not soon be forgotten by those who worked with them “I will always remember this first class,” said Katie Stevens, lead instructor of the Columbus AFB Project SEARCH class. “This year has been the most rewarding year of my entire education career.”
The students presented Stevens with a bouquet and thanked her for the time and lessons she provided them during the program.
“Congratulations! Today is your day. You’re off to great places! You’re off and away!” said Sam Allison, , Lowndes County School District superintendent as he read from the Dr. Suess book, “Oh, the Places You’ll Go.”
“Being a part of your growth and development has been a pleasure,” said Lt. Col. Tiffany Sellers, 14th Logistics Readiness Squadron commander as she spoke to the crowd attending the graduation. “We really look forward to seeing more students and more opportunities at the base. After all, that’s what we do here. We are a training base, so bring them here and let’s teach them.”
Project SEARCH is a continual program that has laid down roots at several locations, mostly consisting of local hospitals. On-site training at Columbus AFB has been a unique opportunity that base leaders are excited to nurture and continue to assist their community.
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