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Pima JTED's 'Project SEARCH' gifted $500k grant to expand program

Project SEARCH puts kids in a real-life workplace setting to reinforce important employment skills and hands-on learning
Posted at 7:07 PM, Apr 24, 2024

Pima JTED has a program which provides youth with significant developmental disabilities a successful transition from school to work called Project SEARCH. The program was awarded a $500,000 grant from Jim Click Jr. for an expansion.

Project SEARCH puts kids in a real-life workplace setting to reinforce important employment skills and hands-on learning.

Xochitl Sierra, the principal for Project SEARCH, says they purchased vans for transportation with some of the funds.

“It was honestly, for us, out of the blue," said Sierra.

Sierra tells me they will offer specific internships with the expansion that the community has been asking for.

“Specifically in our disability community because it’s a little bit hard to find those places and knock on doors and even just get a foot in the door sometimes," Sierra said.

Angelica Tadeo is part of the program and interns as a cashier at the gift shop inside of Banner South.

“It feels like I’m actually working here like in the retail store," said Tadeo.

Tadeo is excited to complete the year-long program as her life goal is to work in fashion and retail. She says she feels like a new person compared to how she felt when she first started with Project SEARCH.

“I was a little bit shy and nervous," Tadeo said. "But at the same time I got to communicate with my boss, Miss Suzy, and everybody else in this program. It really helped me with my shyness and communication.”

Kenny Quihui is another Project SEARCH intern who doesn't mind getting his hands dirty with maintenance work.

Quihui tells me he’s not only improved his communication skills, but also learned a lot about what he wants to do with his life.

“It’s a really good job search and self-search ‘cause in high school I didn’t know what I wanted to do after," said Quihui. "After joining this program, I’ve learned a lot about what I do like and what I do enjoy.”

Seeing the finished product is special for Quihui. He says while most people turn away from this field of work because of the hard labor, he enjoys it.

“I enrolled in Pima [Community] College, so I was gonna get my certification in HVAC and I’m also searching for a job as an apprentice in HVAC. So, I really want to do HVAC,” Quihui said.

Sierra tells me the next group of Project SEARCH students are enrolled and ready to go for the next school year and will attend the brand new Bridges Campus.

If you or someone you know is eligible and interested in Project SEARCH, you can find information on enrollment here.

Jacqueline Aguilar is a multimedia journalist at KGUN 9. Born and raised in Yuma, AZ., she is no stranger to the unforgiving Arizona heat. Now this U of A wildcat is excited to be back in Tucson and is looking forward to involving herself in the community. Share your story ideas with Jacqueline by emailing or connecting on Facebook, Instagram or X.