COEUR d’ALENE — Running cash registers, making smoothies and talking to complete strangers no longer makes Jake Charboneau nervous.
Now that he is about to graduate from Project SEARCH and scheduled to start his first official job as a Kroc Center food service attendant today, these are things he's looking forward to.
"I used to be really shy around people, and now I’m not anymore," Charboneau, 19, said Friday morning. "I feel excited, but at the same time I feel kind of sad because I really like the program. But mostly I’m excited because I got a job and I’m graduating from the program."
Charboneau, of Coeur d'Alene, has epilepsy, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and minor autism, but they're not standing in his way. He is one of four of the eight Project SEARCH graduates who were hired through their internships before they even completed the program.
"Project SEARCH was really new for me,” said Becky Anderson, 19, of Post Falls. "When I first started the program I thought it was just going to be like school where they give you paperwork and have you sit down and it’s super quiet, but I was really shocked. It’s totally different."
Project SEARCH is a high school transition program that prepares young adults 18-21 with disabilities for the workforce. It places participants in three rotations of unpaid intern training from September to June, where they try out jobs ranging from cleaning and janitorial to food service, childcare and laundry. Through this work they learn punctuality, interpersonal communication, accountability and other qualities appreciated in good employees.
Anderson also landed a job before graduation. She has been a teacher assistant at the Kootenai Kids Day Care at Kootenai Health since March.
Anderson describes her disability as "hidden," a slight ADHD with reading and language problems. These hidden issues limited her self-esteem until she went through Project SEARCH.
"I had no confidence and thought I couldn’t get a job because of my disability,” she said. "This is an awesome program. If you didn’t have any confidence in yourself, you will gain a lot and you learn so much about yourself. It’s a really good program, I would recommend it to any disability child.”
This is the seventh class to complete the program since it came to North Idaho in 2010. It is facilitated through Kootenai Health and funded through partnerships with the Idaho Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Coeur d'Alene and Post Falls school districts and Tesh, Inc.
"I am just beyond thrilled with the achievements they have brought upon themselves with their attitude and willingness to try new things," said Project SEARCH instructor Theresa Moran. "They have an attitude that they want to work and they want to be a part of our community, and it's great to see our community stepping up."
Charboneau said his advice for the next wave of Project SEARCH interns is “don’t be afraid to open up to everybody and get to know them all."
"Everybody’s so nice, it’s just a great program, you’re going to learn a lot,” he said with a beaming smile. “And give it 110 percent, because it’s worth it in the end."
For information about Project SEARCH or the graduation ceremony, contact Moran at 625-5799.
The Project SEARCH 2017 graduation celebration will be at 4 p.m. Wednesday in the Kootenai Health Resource Center, 2003 Kootenai Health Way, north side of the hospital. The grads will be giving presentations about their experiences in the program, including what they learned, some of their favorite things and photos from their work days. The celebration is free and open to the public.