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Project Search Interns Gain Confidence, Improve Employment Skills

Project Search Celebration
The first four interns to participate in Upper Valley Project SEARCH at UVMC gathered before a program celebration in May. The interns, from left, D.J. Gayhart, Nathen McConnahea, Katherine Smith and Justin Grogg.

Learning to work with others, honing employment skills and gaining self confidence were just a few of the benefits cited by the first four Upper Valley Project SEARCH interns at UVMC.

As the program’s first year was wrapped up with a May celebration, the four said the program not only provided new experiences but also new friendships.

“Project SEARCH has taken me so far. This is the biggest thing I ever did. I like doing this,” Nathen McConnahea of Sidney said.

He along with D.J. Gayhart of Piqua and Justin Grogg and Katherine Smith of Troy were the first in the area to participate in Upper Valley Project SEARCH.

The high school transition program is designed to provide training and education on the road to employment for individuals with disabilities.  Local partners in addition to UVMC include the Upper Valley JVS in Piqua, the Board of Developmental Disabilities in Miami and Shelby counties, the state Bureau of Vocational Rehabilitation and Capabilities of St. Marys.

Gayhart admitted he entered the program somewhat reluctantly.  However, time and exposure to program offerings changed his mind.

“Project SEARCH for me has been a blessing,” Gayhart said.  “Now I am really, really glad I did it because it has given me some direction.”

For Smith, the program has empowered her to deal with a communications disability as she worked in nutrition services, home health and volunteer services.  “The program is going pretty good for me,” she said.

Grogg said learning “how to use my soft hospital voice” was one of many skills he’s attained while working with staff in environmental services and home health. “I think Project SEARCH is a really, really good program,” he said.

The four Upper Valley JVS continuing students deferred their diplomas during program participation.  They were guided by Patti Moore, Upper Valley Project SEARCH coordinator, and Jim Stricker, job coach, with Capabilities Inc. of St. Marys.

Among program goals are to help each intern become a more independent person and learn to compete in the job market, Moore said.

The interns thanked both Moore and Stricker for their patience and guidance.

At the May celebration, Gayhart received his diploma from Piqua High School and McConnahea was presented his diploma from Fairlawn High School.

Smith and Grogg will continue another year in Upper Valley Project SEARCH along with six new interns who will join them in August.

McConnahea has started a job and S&H Products in Sidney, while Gayhart hopes to work part time while attending Edison Community College. Gayhart, who cannot use his legs, learned to drive in an adapted vehicle during the past year and has earned his driver’s license.

“I just have to find a car,” he said during a joint interview with the three fellow interns. “Maybe I’ll be picking you guys up one of these days.”

For more information on Upper Valley Project SEARCH, contact Patti Moore at or (937) 440-7431.