St. Ambrose internship program for students with disabilities helps them secure jobs after high school

DAVENPORT, Iowa -- A program that helps Davenport high school students with disabilities find work is coming up on its first graduating class.

The program, Project Search, gives the students real-world work experience that will translate into a job.

Project Search is an international program that came to Davenport a year ago.

There are five students in the program that's run right here at St. Ambrose University. One year ago, these special education students started the program that would change their lives.

Students work at three different internships at St. Ambrose, rotating every ten weeks. They can work at places like the cafeteria, library, and the children's campus. These opportunities show them hard work it takes to succeed.

"Many people with disabilities have been told that they're less than and that the disability is a barrier. But I think with this program and what we try and make sure that we encourage is that it just means that you learn different," said Ryan Saddler, a business liaison for the program.

The internships give them the experience to later find a job.

"It's nice because they learn the skills and now I get to see them gain employment. Especially when they start to get paid and they get that first paycheck it's really cool," said Steve Claeys, a Project Search instructor.

At the beginning of each day, students work with instructors to learn basic life skills.

"I do like it a lot and I think it's a big experience to go into," said Madison Wright, one of the students.

With two internships under her belt, Madison will soon be bringing in a paycheck from her new job at a local retirement home.

The program is still growing. Next year, they have seven students signed up. Their goal is to have between six and twelve students.

The current class will graduate at the end of next month.