FRISCO, Texas — A North Texas school district is helping its graduates with disabilities get meaningful jobs. Project SEARCH is a 10-month internship that typically turns in to a full--time gig for students who really want to contribute to society.
Twenty-year-old Jonathan Berry is a Frisco ISD graduate of Frisco High School, north of Dallas, who has intellectual disabilities. Thanks to the district, he got a job at Embassy Suites Frisco. He is doing good at work and loves his job.
“During my free time I like to play video games and hang out with friends,” Berry said. “Here, my main job is hotel maintenance.”
Project SEARCH is a nationwide program designed to help young adults with disabilities gain the skills to get and keep a job. Embassy Suites Frisco and Atrium Hospitality offers the experience for interns with both physical and/or intellectual disabilities, like Autism Spectrum Disorder. Each program cycle has 10 interns for nine months.
“You get to do a lot more things at the hotel,” Berry said.
Interns are 18 to 22-years-old high school graduates.
“Today, I have to change the dirty filters in each guest room,” Berry said during his shift.
Building their resume helps make them competitive in the job market. Michael Jones with Frisco ISD works on site at Embassy Suites as the instructor.
“It gives a certain population that avenue to get out and be productive citizens of society,” Jones said. “It helps give them a purpose. It gives them a sense that they can be more than just finishing up with school and going to a dayhab or going to some other opportunities that wouldn’t be fulfilling.”
50 to 60 interns in the program have gotten jobs either through Embassy Suites or other places in Dallas Fort-Worth. The hotel’s manager Rich Lundt has a personal connection.
“My wife is a special education teacher in Dallas ISD. We have a special needs daughter Grace,” Lundt said. “So, this program is incredibly important to me. And when they came to our hotel, I hoped it would be successful because of our personal experience, and it’s been more than I could have hoped for.”
The program was so beneficial, that Lundt does not believe the hotel could have stayed open during the pandemic without these employees.
The first time you get a task like this, it sounds easy but it’s really not that easy,” Berry said.
But Berry is a quick learner, and he has made a lot of friends.
“Two people [are] currently still working here were with me during Project Search,” he said.
His parents are happy.
“We’re so proud of you! I’m glad you went through Project SEARCH,” Berry said, quoting his parents.
He is proud of himself, as well.
“They’ve been treating me well. Taught me all the things I needed to do or know before getting a job here,” he said with a smile.
Berry plans to work at the hotel for many years. Nationally, Project SEARCH has a 70-percent employment rate. But in Frisco, the district has 80 to 90 percent hire rate each year. The program also connects graduates to Texas Workforce Solutions and LifePath Systems to help them transition to life after high school.
An earlier version of this story misidentified Atrium Hospitality. This has been corrected on all platforms. (11/1)