Project SEARCH at NAS Oceana makes difference in the lives of young adults with developmental disabilities

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VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WAVY) — A ground-breaking program at Naval Air Station Oceana is making a difference in the lives of young adults with developmental disabilities. It’s called Project SEARCH.

Project SEARCH is a transition program designed for young people who have significant intellectual or developmental disabilities. It gives real-life work experience and training in employability and independent living skills to help them transition to adult life.

When Sailors at Oceana go to the Navy exchange mini mart, there’s a good chance they’ll see 20-year-old Markus Gray. He’s a Project SEARCH intern who’s making his mom proud.

“It’s a blessing, and prayers were answered because this program will allow Markus to walk in his purpose, to do what otherwise would not have been available for him to do,” said Robin Gray.

“I stock shelves, I break down boxes and I like the people I work with,” said Markus, who has Down Syndrome.

He’s acquiring both on-the-job and soft skills, such as communication, problem-solving, and accepting feedback.

“Markus takes feedback really really well.,” said Instructional specialist Jan Varney. “He comes to us at the end of the day and he says ‘okay, I’m ready for my feedback’, which means tell me what I did right, tell me what I did wrong and what can I do better? And that’s huge.”

Already a success at Fort Eustis, Oceana becomes the first navy installation to jump on board with Project SEARCH. It’s a collaborative effort between Virginia Beach City Public Schools, Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, Virginia Department of Education, Didlake, Inc., and Virginia Commonwealth University Rehabilitation Research and Training Center.

Markus is one of nine interns in the ten-month program.

“It’s really a win-win for all. The departments onboard get some great assistance and interns to help them out. The students are defining and shaping their futures,” said ACCS Amber Khoryati, business liaison for the program.

Markus says he’s sure Project SEARCH will give him what he needs to find work.

“He told us he’s going to get a job and take us out to dinner,” his mother said.

Those who participate in the 10-month program are often high school students who are on an Individual Education Program plans and are in their last year of high school.

Watch the video in the player above to learn more.

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