STAR Celebrates Project SEARCH Class of 2022

As a job placement specialist at the STAR Center, I am proud to be part of the team that supports Project SEARCH graduates along their employment journey. We provide job readiness, job placement, and long- term support services for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities whether it results in a job with West Tennessee Healthcare (the Project SEARCH host business in Jackson) or another business in the community.

On May 13, we celebrated the 7th Project SEARCH graduating class in Jackson! We applauded the four graduates from this year’s class in a special ceremony at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital. In 1996, Erin Riehle and Susie Rutkowski initially co-founded Project SEARCH to train individuals with disabilities to fill a variety of entry-level jobs at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. Since then, Project SEARCH has grown into an international internship program with host sites around the world. (Fun fact: Project SEARCH is located in 9 countries and 48 states. Yes, you can find Project SEARCH interns as far away as Australia.) 

In 2015, the STAR Center, Vocational Rehabilitation, the Jackson-Madison County School System, and West Tennessee Healthcare partnered together to launch the first Project SEARCH host site in Jackson. (Special thanks to Dave Bratcher, our outgoing STAR President. Dave had a vital role in the Project SEARCH partnership.)

At the Jackson graduation this year, I had the honor of sharing some words of encouragement with the Class of 2022. Here are some of my remarks to this year’s class:

When you said “Yes” to the Project SEARCH program nine months ago, whether you knew it or not, you also said “Yes” to changing the world. Every day that you show up on the job and apply the skills that you learned in this program to the best of your ability, managers are taking notice. As a result of what they see in you, they will want to hire more Project SEARCH graduates. When they read on your resume that you are a Project SEARCH graduate, they automatically know that you are an employee that they can count on. You know the importance of showing up on time. You know how to work on a team. And you know how to ask for support when you need it…Graduates, I just want to encourage you to continue being the best employees that you can be because you have the power to help change the world for someone else who may be in the next Project SEARCH class. Remember that you are a graduate of a world-class program and that means that you are a world-class employee! Keep up the excellent work! Congratulations!

STAR Center Job Placement Specialist Wendy Mercer speaking to the Project SEARCH Class of 2022 during the May 13 ceremony.
Three of the four 2022 Project SEARCH graduates are pictured above with several Project SEARCH partners including team members from Jackson-Madison County Schools, the STAR Center, Vocational Rehabilitation and West Tennessee Healthcare at Jackson-Madison County General Hospital.

About the Author : Wendy Mercer

NOTE: This person is a past employee or intern of the STAR Center. Their name and authorship is preserved for posterity. Wendy Mercer joined the STAR Center team in 2017. She is a job placement specialist and coordinator of the STAR Center Business Advisory Group. Wendy earned her master's degree in teaching from the University of Memphis. She received her bachelor's degree in print journalism from Clark Atlanta University. Wendy is a former special education teacher and freelance writer. Wendy is active with several community organizations. She currently serves as vice president of the Jackson Old Hickory Rotary Club.

  1. Vicki Pate May 27, 2022 at 7:13 pm - Reply

    Very well said, Wendy! This program changes lives! Not only the lives of the graduates themselves, but also those who are educated regarding successful integrated community employment for people with disabilities by observing the outstanding work these young people do every day! Thank you for the dedication you show as one of the team members who helps these young men and women overcome their life obstacles and achieve their potential!!

    • Wendy Mercer May 27, 2022 at 7:48 pm - Reply

      Thanks so much, Vicki! I absolutely agree that Project SEARCH is a life-changing program that has the power to educate and advance successful integrated community employment for the next generation of individuals with disabilities.

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