A Celebratory First Year for Johnson County Project SEARCH and Sunflower Health Plan

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One never knows what the challenges or outcome will be when implementing a new program. Challenges you are unprepared for and outcomes that will be compared with similar programs.


Such was the case when Project SEARCH at Johnson County Government began its inaugural year. Four of the seven first interns, Sunflower Health Plan members, had graduated high school but struggled to find and maintain competitive employment. For Cole, Kyle, Scott, and Tyler, Project SEARCH offered them an opportunity to build their resumes, develop work skills, and address some of the challenges that prevented them from achieving their dream of employment. 


But first a challenge. As a new program, there were questions regarding using HCBS waiver services to pay for Project SEARCH.  Shelly May, Employment/Day Pathways Facilitator, worked with Sunflower Care Managers to add day services funding to each members’ plans of care and was there to address other questions or barriers that came up along the way.


As a fully-integrated, community-based, employment-focused training program, Project SEARCH not only is a great use of Medicaid dollars but clearly meets the CMS Final Rule for HCBS Services. 


Through Project SEARCH’s series of three internship rotations and dedicated classroom time, each intern gained valuable experience and skills that vital to their goal of competitive employment.


There is only one measure of success for Project SEARCH graduates: competitive employment. And amazingly, in only its first year, the Johnson County team met that measure with all seven of its first-year interns securing paid employment! 


Cole found both his dream job and a dream team of coworkers at the Sunrise Retirement Community. Working as a dishwasher, Cole is known by everyone, he has a great relationship with his supervisor, and he looks forward to coming to work every day.


Although Scott experienced a few challenges adjusting to the work demands of his internship, with the advocacy and support from his Sunflower Health Plan Behavioral Health Care Coordinator, Kristine Meier, he and his team kept moving forward towards his goal of competitive employment. Scott was ultimately hired as a dishwasher at Tequila Harry’s Restaurant and he, too, is loving his job and coworkers.


Kyle had two job offers! He had to decide between working at the Great Wolf Lodge where his father also works and accepting an offer from one of his internship rotations, The Sunflower Café.  When the Sunflower Café learned Kyle was considering two offers, they increased their own offer of employment from 30 to 32 hours per week. Kyle happily accepted the offer and loves being back on the team with which he connected during his internship rotation. Kyle has excelled at his work and his duties have expanded from dishwashing to also include food prep and serving. 


Tyler Smith, who had always wanted to work in the entertainment industry, is happily employed by AMC Theatres. He also loves acting and public speaking and continues to explore those interests.  Being a Project SEARCH participant has allowed Tyler the opportunity to confidently present at conferences, board meetings, and Chamber events. 


Congratulations to the entire class of inaugural class of Project SEARCH at Johnson County Government!