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Project SEARCH announces new internship program at Mitchell International

The transition from school-to-work program for adults ages 18-24 with disabilities announced a new partnership with Mitchell International Airport.

The announcement was met with thunderous applause at a completion celebration for the latest round of interns who have been gaining valuable skills at the Milwaukee County Zoo.

Project SEARCH focuses on problem-solving, decision-making, and social skills in the workplace.

"I learned to always have an open mind," intern Kevin Vogel told CBS 58 News. "Because I did things I never thought were possible."

The interns go through three 10-week rotations in different areas of the Zoo and Zoological Society, such as food serve, animal buildings, education and administration. Individuals work 20-25 hours per week and attend a classroom component before and after work each day.

"We're not training individuals to work at the zoo," explained Project SEARCh instructor Shelly Niebler. "We're training them to work at jobs around their communities."

Project SEARCH was developed at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in 1996, and many of the existing sites are hospitals.

The Milwaukee County Zoo is only the second zoo in the nation to participate; by the end of 2017 the zoo will be one of 27 sites in the state of Wisconsin.

Zoo Director Chuck Wikenhauser brought to near tears at the presentation of a tree of thanks by the interns.

He asked the crowd to recognize all the zoo staff who committed heart and passion.

Program organizers say it succeeds because of the collaborative effort among several partners, including educational organizations, local school districts, vocational rehabilitation services, long-term support organizations and a supported employment provider.

Some interns have already been hired for jobs in the community and others will work with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and Goodwill Supported Employment to secure a job.

In Wisconsin, Project SEARCH has placed 88% of participants in successful employment.

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