SYLVA – For most of his life, John Beaulieu hardly spoke.
Years ago, a neurologist diagnosed him as having a frontal lobe that didn’t develop all the way – and he struggled with human interaction. His mother, Cynthia Reed spent countless hours, days, weeks and months searching the Internet for a program that could help.
Then came Project SEARCH. Beaulieu enrolled last fall, spent a year in studies and internships at Southwestern Community College’s Jackson Campus then graduated in May. He recently landed a job washing knives at Creekside Oyster House & Grill in Sylva.
No one noticed the change more clearly than his mom.
“It’s been a total personality transformation,” Reed said. “You couldn’t get him to say a word before, but now I can’t get him to shut up – and it’s wonderful! He’s very outgoing now, and he’s always looking for ways to help others.”
Launched in 2014, SCC’s Project SEARCH program allows men and women from ages 18-30 with disabilities to gain marketable employability skills through hands-on internships matched to their individual interests, strengths and abilities.
The program has a limited number of openings for this fall, and admission is free. Reed said it’s by far the most-effective option she ever found for helping improve her son’s life.
“With all the obstacles John’s had in his life, he loves his life and has been happy,” Reed said recently. “He’s been in so many programs over the years, but unfortunately none of them were useful … until Project SEARCH.”
In addition to becoming more comfortable in social situations, Beaulieu credited the program with helping him improve his time-management and organizational skills.
“What helped me the most at the start was just diving in head-first and getting it all situated in my head,” he said. “Project SEARCH has helped me in a lot of ways that I really don’t have words for.”
Devonne Jimison oversees the program at SCC and said last year’s interns looked up to Beaulieu.
She also said his versatility and ability to adapt to changing situations foreshadowed his success out in the real world.
“Leadership is one thing we saw in him that he seemed surprised about,” Jimison said. “If I needed to place someone at the last minute in the café, or if there were other jobs that came up at the last minute across campus, I knew I could count on him – even if I couldn’t be there with him. That kind of flexibility really makes for a good employee.”
From a parent’s perspective, Reed said one aspect of the program she appreciates the most is how accessible Jimison and the other instructors are.
“The communication – I can’t tell you how far that goes because you wonder what’s going on or what the next steps will be, and they allow you to be as involved as you want to be,” Reed said. “Even now after he’s graduated, they are still there for me anytime I call with a question.”
Asked how she feels about Project SEARCH, Reed paused briefly before answering: “The fact I’m tearing up right now should say it all. It’s life-changing. It really is. It has changed John’s life for sure.”
For more information about Project SEARCH or to start the enrollment process for this fall, contact Jimison at devonnej@SouthwesternCC.edu or 828.339.4486.