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New program helps students with disabilities  find employment

LYNCHBURG (WSLS 10) - Lynchburg City and Campbell County Schools are starting a new program next school year in an attempt to bring up the employment numbers for graduates with mental or physical disabilities.

It's a program that has seen success in Roanoke for the past five years.

Starting this August, nine high school students in the Lynchburg City School system will be working with Lynchburg General Hospital to learn a variety of technical skills to create a whole knew practical learning experience.

School Board members got their first look at the new program Tuesday.

Project Search provides internships for students with disabilities.

In this case, they'll be supporting hospital staff.

"We're really focusing on skills-based training. We want them to have the skills so that when they're done with that program, if they want to apply for a position within Centra, that's great," said Wren Roberts, Centra Hospital Facilities Managing Director.

Right now, the school system has a post-graduate employment rate of 55 percent, five points below the state goal.

Coordinator Amanda Meyers-Ramirez, who works in Lynchburg Schools, says the hope is the program will drastically change those numbers.

"Project Search currently has outcomes in and around 85 percent, so if we can have this program here, which we will, and if we can have students go through the process, we're confident we can surpass the goal from the state," said Meyers-Ramirez.

At Roanoke Memorial Hospital, the facility has been hosting interns through Project Search in its laundry division for the past five years.

"It allows them an opportunity to feel like they're succeeding where they've probably never succeeded in life before," said Eric Frederick, Hospital Laundry Services Director.

Fredrick says students work on repetitive tasks that over time they can master, but one of the challenges is teaching parents it's the right thing for their child.

"We had to convince them that no your child needs to be challenged. Your child needs to do as much as they can do. They need to find out where their limits are. How much can they do? How well can they mainstream themselves into society?" said Frederick.

Meyers-Ramirez says Lynchburg has been working since 2006 to offer students this opportunity, and she's excited to see the result.

"It's taken us this long to see it come true for us, but it's a great dream that we're finally getting to reality," said Myers-Ramirez.

Although Project Search is only working with nine students from Lynchburg the first year, they hope by next year that will grow to 12, and in the long term hope the program will expand to Centra's other hospital branches, such as Bedford County and Farmville.