Project Search gives deserving students employment opportunities
For Cynthia Garcia-Ramos, welcoming guests to the Morton Fitness Center is second nature.
The Western Hills High School graduate and current Project Search intern greets guests in the fitness center and maintains the cleaning equipment and towels. Her natural friendly temperament and strong work ethic make this on-the-job training exercise a perfect fit.
"It’s important that fitness center staff engage with our members and guests from the moment they walk in the door," Aaron Whaley, Morton Fitness Center director, said. "Cynthia is great addition to our team and this job comes naturally to her. She makes us all feel welcome and I feel lucky to have her here."
Garcia-Ramos is one of 10 Fort Worth ISD students who have a yearlong internship at Texas Wesleyan through Project Search, a national high school transition program that helps students with disabilities gain employment.
FWISD, along with Goodwill, the Department of Assistive and Rehabilitative Services (DARS), MHMR of Tarrant County and Texas Wesleyan, have come together to bring the program to Fort Worth.
On-the-job and life skills
Project Search interns meet twice daily in the Baker Building with Rick Maloney, Goodwill job coach and employment specialist and Christina Schlueter, FWISD vocational adjustment coordinator.
"These kids are amazing. Not only are they learning to complete the important tasks assigned to them, they are learning essential skills about what it takes to succeed in the workforce," Schlueter said.
This year’s internship rotations include jobs in the Office of Student Life, fitness center, Facilities and Maintenance, Admissions Office and dining hall.
"We talk about managing your work, adapting to new co-workers and how to be thorough and patient when learning new skills," Schlueter said. "We drill down the importance of being on time, staying focused, keeping a positive attitude and how to approach a problem or conflict."
Once the program is completed in May, interns will set out for employment with the assistance of Maloney. Last year, interns gained employment at Wal-Mart, FedEx, Benbrook Library, Kohl’s and Party City. One former intern is currently working at Texas Wesleyan’s West Express Eatery.
Garcia-Ramos says she hopes to work in a daycare one day. She is the second oldest of five siblings – and no doubt has some on-the-job training in caring for young children. Her youngest sisters are five and seven.
"Oh yes, I help take care of my family," Garcia-Ramos said, with her infectious smile and laugh.
Texas Wesleyan’s role
Suzanne Norwood, FWISD coordinator of transition services, was making cold calls across town trying to find an employer that would serve as a business host for Project Search when she finally found her gold – blue and gold – at Texas Wesleyan.
"Texas Wesleyan was on my list, and sure enough, and lucky enough, John Veilleux answered the phone to hear me out," Norwood said.
She says that Veilleux, Texas Wesleyan’s vice president for marketing and communications, was immediately interested in the program and its potential to help bright students with disabilities.
"He agreed to meet with Marcia Scofield, FWISD transition specialist, at Arlington Heights High School and the rest is history," Norwood said.
Project Search is in its second year at Texas Wesleyan and Veilleux says he hopes the partnership will continue to thrive.
"This is an important way we can give back to our community and support bright and deserving kids who are excited to join the workforce," Veilleux said.