We the Interns

Posted by The Arc of North Carolina
We are the interns of the Mission Health Project SEARCH program in Asheville, North Carolina. The program is a partnership between Mission Health, The Arc of North Carolina, AB Tech, North Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation, Vaya Health, and the North Carolina Council on Developmental Disabilities. We participate in classes that educate us on the importance of job skills, interview etiquette, professionalism on the job, and self-advocacy.
Since our Project SEARCH began in 2016, 94% of graduates have secured competitive employment upon graduation and are now providing over 250 hours a week into the workforce of the Asheville area. Individuals that have gone through the program have not only experienced professional growth but also personal growth and confidence in their abilities. 
Before Project SEARCH, we had different understandings and skills levels in self-advocacy. Some of us did not know how to advocate for ourselves. Others did not know how to advocate in a professional setting. When we would ask for help we were not always getting the help that we needed because we did not have the words to express what we needed. This meant we were often nervous, angry, or frustrated that were not able to do what was being asked of us- even though we knew that we could. 
In addition to learning techniques that can help us find employment, we have learned stress exercises, team bonding, and how to become better employees who are capable of advocating for themselves. 
Matthew Banks, an intern in Nursing Education, says:  “In my department, I was given work to do and a certain time it needed to be done. But I needed help because it was too much at once and I needed it to be broken down into bits, and bits that I could do easier. I advocated to my job coach and mentor and asked for help organizing my task. Project SEARCH has helped me because I am learning how use skills to recognize the type of help I need.”
As we transition into adulthood, we are going to have to make decisions involving goals, culture, independent living, transportation, employment and finances. We are learning in Project SEARCH how to better self-advocate, but we know independence does not mean we are alone. We have friends and we can ask them for advice. We have co-workers and we can ask for references. We have supports and job coaches. We have mentors who have experience and can act as role models for us to aspire to. We want to weigh pros and cons. We want to think about doing this or that. We have the right to make informed decisions. That is self-advocacy.
If you are interested in learning more about Project SEARCH or how you can become a Project SEARCH intern, please contact Tim Blekicki at tblekicki@arcnc.org.