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Alabama program gives young adults with special needs internships to learn job skills

By Tyler Fingert

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    MOBILE, Alabama (WALA) — At the Renaissance Riverview Plaza Hotel, CJ Walker is learning the ropes in the housekeeping department.

“I’m good at stripping the beds, take off the sheets, pillowcases, untuck the duvet and take off the pillowcases off the bed,” he said.

CJ is part of a program called Project Search, it is for students with special needs. He is one of 14 people who are spending the year working and learning important job skills for the future.

“I never worked at the Renaissance before, but when I have to go work in the real world like that I would love to work with a group or by myself,” CJ said.

Project Search is a nationwide program. It is in more than 200 locations and at least 43 states, including Mobile County for the last 10 years.

“It’s an amazing program that changes lives,” said Dabra Broome, a Project Search Instructor.

Broome says when the interns are not working, they are with her learning different things like interview skills.

“It is a transition to work program so it prepares students with disabilities to be able to enter the workforce at the end of this year,” she said.

The Riverview and Battle House hotels are new additions this year.

Normally, local hospitals take interns, but because of COVID, the program branched out.

“We love seeing the students, they’re excited to be at work, they get to learn new skills, grow,” said Kent Blackinton, Riverview Plaza Hotel General Manager. “Our associates love seeing them and having them there and then they’re helping us out too so it’s a win for everybody.”

There is a lot of excitement for this program.

Not only is it great for CJ, but his mom Erin Walker is hopeful it can help lead to a job.

“I’m grateful for a program like Project Search that allows young adults like CJ to be able to focus on more than just academics, but also life skills,” she said.

For now, three months in CJ is loving the work.

“I like doing the housekeeping department so when I want to go to work in the real world, I’m ready,” he said.

Both hotels say they hope to give some of the interns jobs at the end of the school year.

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