Wednesday, May 10, was a big day for seven students from three different high schools in the surrounding area because they graduated from our Project SEARCH Job Training Program!

The Project SEARCH Job Training Program, now in its fourth year at our resort, is an internationally acclaimed model for transitioning student with intellectual and developmental challenges from high school into employment through internships that provide useful on the job training. In order to participate, students must be in their last year of high school, have to meet educational guidelines, and complete an application process.

There are currently 28 Project SEARCH programs Tennessee and Wilderness at the Smokies is the only one in Sevier County. Worldwide, there are over 700 programs. Over the past four years, our resort has expanded our job training opportunities to include seven different hospitality related departments which can expose our interns to up to 16 different career opportunities. Based on their interests and skills, most Project SEARCH students spend nine weeks in three different departments over the course of the school year.

On a typical school day, our student interns arrive at our resort at 8 am. They start their day with a lesson addressing life and/or work skills
with their teacher job skills trainers. From 9:30 am – 2:30 pm, interns learn skills while working with our employee mentors who model and direct their workday.

Jenny Mitchell from our HR department who oversee our program says the full immersion allows the student interns to learn self-advocacy skills, independence, and safety guidelines while following procedures and increasing their communication skills.

In spring, the interns can apply for jobs and are offered support as needed during the hiring and training process. In each setting, new skills are developed, but the larger picture is about finding our purpose and place in the world to feel important and belong to something.

Jenny adds, “The students have learned some really valuable life skills and work experience. In housekeeping, they were taught how to strip down the rooms, change sheets and towels, remove trash and vacuum guest rooms; as lobby attendants they focused on dusting and vacuuming the resort’s public areas; as prep chefs they were taught how to make yogurt parfaits and cut up vegetables for breakfast and lunch; as aquatics housekeepers they learned how to fold towels; and we also got them up to our sister property Soaky Mountain where they helped pressure wash the chairs and clean slides.”

“The parents’ responses to the program has also been really positive. We’ve heard things like ‘I can’t thank you enough for helping him become more responsible.’ and ‘I don’t know what he would be doing or where he would be without Project SEARCH.’”

Jenny adds, “We’ve enjoyed being part of the Project SEARCH program so much we’re hoping to continue to expand the program year after year. Our employees have like having our interns around and the experience has been really positive for everyone.”

“It’s a win/win situation for everyone.”