Success through Partnerships: Careers in Government for Urban Youth with Disabilities

Logo for 2012 National Transition ConferenceBy Guest Blogger Madjid (MJ) Karimi, Policy Analyst, Administration for Community Living, Administration on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services

The 2012 National Transition Conference, hosted by the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Special Education and Rehabilitative Services (OSERS), will take place from May 30 – June 1, 2012 in Washington, D.C. This conference will bring together partners in the transition community, including young adults and families, to promote practices, policy and research that lead to successful employment outcomes and self-sufficiency for young people with disabilities, including Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities (IDD).

As part of the conference, on Thursday, May 31, 2012, from 3:30 to 5:00 p.m., an interactive panel presentation will highlight Project SEARCH, a high school transition program for urban youth with disabilities, which, three years ago, expanded its implementation sites to include five sites within four federal government agencies (the departments of Labor, Health and Human Services, Education and the Interior). A panel of partners in this initiative, including now-employed youth with disabilities, will review the program and discuss successful marketing, recruitment and implementation strategies; accomplishments; challenges; best practices and lessons learned; and opportunities for replication in federal, state and local governments.

Each project site is a partnership among a federal agency, a school or local education agency, a community rehabilitation agency and the District of Columbia’s Department on Disability Services and its vocational rehabilitation agency. Youth, who have successfully completed the program and are now employed, will share their stories and the difference the program has made in their lives and prospects for attaining their current customized or competitive jobs with competitive salaries and benefits.

Also during the panel discussion, representatives of host employers will share their experiences supporting a Project SEARCH Program, and the benefits to their federal agency, individual offices and the culture of their organization. School and vocational rehabilitation partners will discuss their collaborative role in promoting employment outcomes in the federal government or public/private sectors for youth with disabilities, and offer the strategies and services they employ to promote job retention. In addition, the co-director of Project SEARCH USA will review the national program model and discuss ways in which it has been supported in a number of employment sectors, including healthcare, banking, universities and more. Panelists will share resource materials that describe and facilitate development of Project SEARCH programs, including a description of the interagency agreements that support these public-private collaborative partnerships.

Panelists will include:

  • Denise Ford, Project SEARCH Liaison for the National Institute of Health, and Chief, Office of Hospitality Services
  • Martin Pursley, Project SEARCH Liaison for the Department of the Interior (DOI), and Program Manager, Strategic Employment Programs
  • Laverdia Taylor Roach, President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities, Administration on Community Living, Project SEARCH Program Business Liaison Emeritus, U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
  • Rebecca S. Salon, Ph.D., Liaison to D.C. Government partners and Consultant, D.C. Department on Disability Services
  • Susie Rutkowski, Project SEARCH Co-Director, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center
  • Vander Cherry, Former Project SEARCH Student and current Clerical Assistant, Federal Student Aid Office, U.S. Department of Education, Office of Federal Student Aid
  • Diandra Garnett, Project SEARCH student, soon to be employed at the National Institutes of Health
  • Michelle Lucas, Director, Workforce Development, Goodwill Industries of Greater Washington

After the presentation, panelists will participate in a question and answer session with the audience.

In the words of Vander Cherry, one of the students from the first year of the Project SEARCH Program at the U.S. Department of Education, “My goal on my job is being able to be a role model to a lot of people, and being able to better myself every day for the workplace so I won’t have anybody coming up to me and telling me how to do my job. I want to be an asset to the office. I want them to call me in to be there because they need me to be there in the office for a specific reason, because they cannot do without me.”

Vander represents the many successful students who have participated in Project SEARCH. After finishing the program, he was hired into a full time position at the U.S. Department of Education.

This year’s Project SEARCH participants will be marking the end of their journey in the program at a joint graduation ceremony on June 5. It is our hope that the panel discussion during the National Transition Conference will encourage further participation in this important program by employers and students alike, and help open the doors of opportunity to young people with disabilities.

Mr. Karimi is responsible for assisting the President’s Committee for People with Intellectual Disabilities (PCPID) in the collection of epidemiological data in areas that impact the daily lives of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, including: health, education, housing, community living, individual family support, employment and aging. He often works as part of multidisciplinary teams to plan and execute epidemiological surveillance, analytical projects, and behavioral and social health investigations. From April 2007 through August 2009, Mr. Karimi served as the Executive Assistant to the PCPID Executive Director. He assisted senior staff in analyzing new and proposed regulations and legislative policies to determine impact on agency’s procedures and practices in the context of interoperability. From 1999 to 2006, Mr. Karimi served as the Quality Control Manager and Research Data Analyst at the Food and Drug Administration, Office of Drug Registration and Listing System.

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