Goodwill helping young disabled people find jobs in the metro

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A disability doesn't have to mean inability. People in the metro with disabilities are getting their chance to hold a normal job, thanks to a project sponsored by Goodwill.

Every person is a potential hire.

That's the mission of Project SEARCH, an extension of Goodwill which helps young people with disabilities find new leases on life.

Take for example 19-year-old Cliff Rush, who's been working at Children's Mercy Hospital for the past six weeks as a groundskeeper, after Project SEARCH helped him find a job.

"I think about how it's going to look when i get done," Rush said, while weeding a bed of kale plants.

What looks like a chore to some people is a moment of pride for Rush. He has lived with neurofibromatosis all his life. That's a genetic condition that affects his brain and speech patterns.

"They offered me this," Rush said. "They showed me what to do, and I took it and it was a good choice. It helped me in a lot of ways."

Rush was involved in Project SEARCH's classroom sessions at Oak Park High School, but after graduation, Project SEARCH matched Cliff's job skills with employers to find the best fit.

"He had to start out basic on the things we do," Clay Rader, grounds manager at Children's Mercy Hospital, said.

"It may have taken him a little bit longer to learn, but he's able to learn and do as good a job as my permanent staff."

"It makes me happy to make other people want to come here," Rush said.

Jennifer Owens works with Goodwill's human services division. She calls the program a "win-win situation" for employers and disabled people.

"The employer is gaining an employee who is wanting to work, ready to work, willing to work, showing up to work every day and enjoys that," Owens said.

The hospital isn't alone. Owens said Ameristar Casino and the Kansas City Zoo are also participating and putting disabled young people to work. Owens said eight students are already signed up for next year's Project SEARCH, and there's still room for more.

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