Project SEARCH Indiana teaches people with developmental disabilities job skills

By Dann Denny 331-4350 |
January 27, 2012

Corey Gabbard, a 20-year-old man with a learning disability, has just arrived at Ivy Tech Community College, and he’s eager to get to work.

He promptly picks up some cardboard boxes, takes them outside and tosses them into a recycling dumpster. Then he wheels a blue cart loaded with cleaning supplies, a broom and toilet plunger into a men’s bathroom — where he slips on a pair of latex gloves and begins scrubbing the sinks and counters.

“I really like having a job,” said Gabbard, who lives with his parents and two brothers in Ellettsville. “It’s my first job since high school. I really like the people I work with.”

Gabbard is one of 17 young adults with disabilities who have completed Project SEARCH Indiana, a program in which adults age 18-24 with developmental disabilities spend seven months working in professional internships and learning job-preparation skills in a classroom to prepare them for long-term employment.

Since its inception three years ago, the program has helped eight young adults find full or part-time jobs at Cook Inc., Ivy Tech, Lennie’s, KRC Catering, Indiana Memorial Union, and McDonald’s — doing everything from custodial work to food service.

Gabbard works 20 hours a week at Ivy Tech, and likes having a regular paycheck, which he uses to buy such things as music CDs and gifts for his family.

“His work ethic is remarkable,” said Doug Mattick, who as Ivy Tech’s director of facilities is Gabbard’s boss. “He’s like a Boy Scout — very quiet and hard-working, and he follows instructions very well. He’s a pleasure to have around.”

Bitta DeWees, the program’s director, said that while the goal of the program is to help participants find employment, it often produces other dividends.

“One of the most powerful things I see is the change in their confidence level and self-esteem,” she said. “Many of them begin the program shy and lacking confidence, but by the end of the program they’re able to stand up and give a PowerPoint presentation about what they’ve learned.”

Christina Montiville, the program’s instructor, said she “has seen these young adults grow beyond the labels placed on their lives.”

Montiville said Gabbard told her that he had grown discouraged during his first year out of high school, as he watched his friends and two brothers get jobs. He said when he landed a job himself, it was “like a dream come true.”

Project SEARCH Indiana was initiated in 2009 with a grant received by Stone Belt Arc, a not-for-profit organization that offers education and support for individuals with disabilities. Stone Belt provides the educational and administrative components of the program, and Cook Inc. and Ivy Tech Community College provide the internships.

DeWees said the classroom sessions teach participants interview, job and social skills designed to prepare them to get and keep a job. “We do mock interviews and team-building skills in the class,” she said. “It’s all designed to give them a leg up when it comes to getting a job.”

DeWees said each participant completes three separate 8-week internships. She said the internships, whether paid or unpaid, help participants build their resume and self-confidence.

“We start actively seeking employment for them before they complete the program,” she said. “Participants leave the program with a detailed portfolio of their work experience and a support team to assist them in obtaining employment. Our goal is for all of them to have a job when they finish.”

She said upon completion of the program, each participant is also offered a free college course from Ivy Tech, which they can use to further their education in a particular area.

Project SEARCH Indiana is a collaborative initiative of Stone Belt Arc, Cook Inc., Ivy Tech, Indiana Family and Social Services Administrative Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, and Indiana Institute on Disability and Community. The next round of internships will begin in March, and those interested in learning more about the program can contact DeWees at 335-3507 (ext. 273) or

Open house and reception planned

There will be an open house and reception celebrating seven young adults with disabilities who have recently completed their Project SEARCH Indiana internships from 4-6 p.m. Feb. 1 at the Ivy Tech Center for Life Sciences, 501 North Profile Parkway in Bloomington.

At the event, which is free and open to the public, attendees will watch multimedia presentations prepared by each of the interns. The participants to be honored are Keagan Burk, Kyle Chapman, Corey Gabbard, Jacob Langham, Katie Lykins, Sarah Massey and Cayla Wrightsman.
Corey Gabbard recycles a cardboard box at Ivy Tech. He works part time at the college after completing the Project SEARCH Indiana program. Jeremy Hogan | Herald-Times
Corey Gabbard cleans a restroom at Ivy Tech. Jeremy Hogan | Herald-Times

Copyright: 2012

About Ivy Tech Community College

Ivy Tech Community College is Indiana's largest public postsecondary institution and the nation's largest singly accredited statewide community college system, accredited by the Higher Learning Commission. Ivy Tech has campuses throughout Indiana and also serves thousands of students annually online. It serves as the state's engine of workforce development, offering associate degrees, long- and short-term certificate programs, industry certifications, and training that aligns with the needs of the community. The College provides a seamless transfer to other colleges and universities in Indiana, as well as out of state, for a more affordable route to a bachelor's degree.