Project SEARCH in Virginia: Transitioning Successfully from School to Work

Kendal Swartzentruber
Publicity Chair

Community collaboration appears to be an interwoven piece to addressing the variability around successful transition for youth with disabilities. Project SEARCH is a unique model that emphasizes collaboration as an essential piece to creating successful school-to work outcomes for youth.

Inquiry into how models, like Project SEARCH work require extensive time, conversations and resources that often fall by the wayside. However the outcomes around the projects success in Virginia appears to be something worth noticing. Therefore it seems only necessary that as a transition division there be further investigation into what is happening around Project SEARCH’s success.

Matthew Deans is the Supported Employment and Project SEARCH coordinator for Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services. His insight on the project’s growth and vision allows readers to capture new information and formulate a better understanding of the inner workings of Project SEARCH and it goals and aspirations. The following interview was recorded through email correspondence between Matthew and Kendal Swartzentruber, VADCDT publicity chair. This interview gives a brief overview of what is happening and what upcoming prospects are coming in the future.

Kendal:  How would you describe Project SEARCH and its goals and objectives? What makes it different from other projects?

Matthew: The Project SEARCH High School Transition Program is a unique, business led, one-year school-to-work program that takes place entirely at the workplace. Total workplace immersion facilitates a seamless combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and hands-on training through worksite rotations.

Kendal:  How many Project SEARCH sites are there currently in the Commonwealth of Virginia? What areas of occupation are they addressing?

Matthew: Currently there are 15 sites all in hospital settings.  The interns target training and skills commonly found in health care, and customer service areas.   

Kendal: What are some of the positive statistics that people should know around Project SEARCH’s success in Virginia? 

Matthew: The big successful outcome statistic is that 85% of those students who participated in Project SEARCH were able to secure independent integrated community based employment earning competitive wages.

Kendal: What are ways that divisions, schools, agencies can get involved and support the growth of project search in VA?

Matthew: The biggest way for schools to support the growth, if appropriate for their divisions, is to reach out to their local DARS office and begin the process of planning, which can take up to 1 year for a new site.

Kendal: What are the hopes and future aspirations of Project SEARCH in Virginia? What should we be looking forward to in the near future?

Matthew: We hope for current Project SEARCH sites to achieve their goal of 100% employment at every site, and we are always on the lookout for new site opportunities throughout the commonwealth.   Folks can maintain contact with their local office for any updates or announcements.

It’s clear that collaboration between businesses, agencies, schools, and families is a critical element to creating positive opportunities for competitive employment. With that said interest in such projects requires sustained and consistent communication around intentions and directionality. Upon reflection on whether or not Project SEARCH is for your division it is appropriate to make contact with the following resources.

  1. local Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services office(s) are a great local resource who can assist in connecting you with the right resources and people as you consider or go through the process of implementation. Relationships with your DARS representative are essential in creation of successful opportunities.


  1. Virginia Commonwealth University WorkSupport provides an extensive look at the history of Project SEARCH in the state as well as how it is supported by the Virginia Department of Education, Virginia Department of Aging and Rehabilitative Services, local agencies and business. This is a great snapshot of information.