Members of the Project SEARCH Class of 2021 at Forrest General.
HATTIESBURG, Miss. – (May 17, 2021) Nine students made up this year’s Project SEARCH Class of 2021 and received graduation certificates last week. Hosted by Forrest General Hospital, students from the Hattiesburg Public, Petal and Lamar County school districts, will now seek employment in their respective communities with a year’s worth of experience under their belts. Graduates include:
- Chloe Cain
- Chandler Davis
- Darius Gardner
- John Ishee
- Caleb Jones
- Philip Nguyen
- Mia Panella
- Maddie Sawyer
Project SEARCH, a program started by the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, is designed to help students with intellectual disabilities move into the workforce after high school. This is the second class to train at Forrest General where they have worked in departments such as Pharmacy, Canteen, Gift Shop, Respiratory Therapy, Radiology, Patient Transport and Food & Nutrition. The skills the students learn while in each of these departments are based on the skillset for that particular department and job.
With a wide range of disabilities, the students, who range in age from 18 to 21, work with mentors throughout the hospital departments. During the graduation ceremony, some of these mentors cheered as loudly as family members and posed for pictures with the graduates afterwards. A past Project SEARCH student, who is now employed with Forrest General’s Food & Nutrition Department, was on hand to show her support.
In addition to learning job skills, these students also work on communication, team-building activities and attendance, learning that if one person is out sick, they must all pitch in to pick up the slack.
Forrest Health Vice President, Millie Swan, applauded the students on a job well done and encouraged them to continue working hard. “It’s a very special day and one to celebrate,” she said. “We are so grateful to have this partnership between Forrest General and Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, Hattiesburg Public School District, Lamar County School District and the Petal School District. What a wonderful opportunity for these students to receive on-the-job training and life skills! Despite the many hurdles and challenges we all experienced this past year with the pandemic, these young adults were still able to go through the rotations and complete this year and have graduation today. That is quite an accomplishment.” Swan thanked the families, as well as Forrest General staff members, for cultivating friendships and relationships with these students. “They have made impressions on each other, had fun and learned from each other,” she said.
Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the students began their year offsite at a church in the Petal community where they worked in the cafeteria and performing custodial duties for the Petal School District. Students returned to Forrest General after Labor Day 2020 when it was deemed safe for them to return. Like others, they experienced dividers in their classroom, practiced social distancing by spreading their desks apart, took daily temperature checks when they arrived at work and wore masks and gloves.
Chris Howard, executive director of the MDRS, spoke about Project SEARCH and the efforts made to safely continue the program at Forrest General when many states shut their programs down. “Y’all fought through COVID,” Howard said as he addressed the students. “COVID was there and y’all said, ‘it doesn’t scare me, I’m going to keep working, learning and making friends,’ and y’all have done a fantastic job. Congratulations!”
Graduates had a part in the ceremony with Shantoris Adams giving the prayer; Chloe Cain acknowledging department mentors; and Chandler Davis and Mia Panella providing closing remarks.
FGH Liaison, Jeremy Lilly, who worked closely with this year’s class, announced the names of graduates as they were presented a Graduation Certificate from Project SEARCH instructor, Heather Reid, and received congratulations from Project SEARCH Skills Trainers, Megan Carlisle and Nicole DeBose.
The class of 2022 has already been chosen and will begin their on-the-job training at the start of the new school year. “This next year we’ll be working with 15 departments at Forrest General, which is up from nine, and bigger than ever before,” said Heather Reid, instructor.
For more information about Project SEARCH, contact your school district, visit the Project SEACH-Forrest General Hospital Facebook page or email Reid at Heather.Reid@petalschools.com