April 2, 2019

Beyond Disability – Building a career with Project SEARCH

By Shelley Pereda

Shelley and Zoe GardeningMy daughter, Zoe, faced significant challenges at a very young age. She was nonverbal and mostly catatonic at 18 months, and her neurologist at the time predicted that she might need to be institutionalized. Needless to say, the idea of her one day having a job seemed completely unattainable.

It was Dr. Adrian Sandler and Dr. Steven Love at the Olson Huff Center who diagnosed Zoe with autism, which in turn enabled me to get her the support she needed. It took years of personal sacrifice and collaborative effort between us, the staff at Mission, her educators and community support services to teach her basic skills like walking, talking, self-feeding, writing and listening. All those years of effort culminated in tears of joy the day Zoe walked across the stage during her high school graduation.

But then we faced what seemed like another insurmountable hurdle: what would Zoe’s life look like as a disabled adult? Project SEARCH, a collaboration between The Arc of NC, Mission Health and A-B Tech, helped bridge that gap. The program offers job and life skills training to individuals like Zoe, providing a pathway to meaningful work that accounts for the individual’s level of disability.

Project SEARCH helped Zoe learn basic job skills like time management, meeting her boss’s expectations, being self-motivated, writing a resume, attending job fairs and interviewing for a job. For Zoe, this opened up a world of options, and gave her pride in her accomplishments.

The day Zoe walked across the stage at A-B Tech for her Project SEARCH graduation, we celebrated hope for a future that we once had thought impossible. During her internship at Mission, Zoe’s manager saw her capabilities, rather than her disabilities, and offered her a job. Now, Zoe is a proud team member in the EVS department at Mission.

We will forever be grateful to the staff at Mission, Zoe’s support team and our friends for helping her grow into the kind-hearted, optimistic and capable adult that she has become.

Through Project SEARCH, students are able to achieve their goal of finding and securing meaningful employment by developing skills that will help them build careers.

Learn more about Project SEARCH at arcnc.org.