Project SEARCH: High School Transition that Works!

Date: 10/01/2017


With one year of high school remaining, James was bored working at the sheltered workshop that was part of the high school program developed with his IEP team. That same plan was also to be part of his senior year. More sheltered workshop.

A typical 20-year-old, James is an avid University of Kansas (KU) sports fan, enjoys fishing, music, taking walks, and hanging out with his friends. He also has developmental disabilities. But James had a dream, and that was to work at KU, even as he didn’t know what type of work opportunities might exist for him.

This dream started to become realized, however, once he met LifeShare Employment Pathways Facilitator, Shelly May. James expressed his boredom at the sheltered workshop and shared his dream of working at KU. As the subject matter expert on employment, Shelly knew of an internship program at KU, Project SEARCH, which has as its focus competitive employment for young people transitioning from high school. She discussed the opportunity with James and his father, and they were immediately on board with excitement and support.

Once Shelly confirmed the Lawrence school district was open to the idea of accepting an out-of-district student in the program, she urged James’s father to request an IEP meeting to discuss Project SEARCH, which he did.

The family also understood from Shelly that entry to Project SEARCH, not a given, required an immense amount of work for the selection process, including an application and interview. Details between the two school districts also had to be established regarding funding, transportation, and accountability.

Additionally, there were two Project SEARCH locations in Lawrence – University of Kansas and Lawrence Memorial Hospital – and no guarantee that James would be selected for his desired KU site. His parents understood, and, as James’s father said, “If it didn’t happen for James next fall, it was opening doors for future students in the school district.”

During the summer, a memorandum of understanding was established between the two school districts. And then, not only was James selected for Project SEARCH (at his beloved KU), two additional district students were chosen as interns for their final year of high school. As interns, the students appear, act, and are treated as “real” employees, with the goal of competitive employment by or within three months of graduation.

Nationally, Project SEARCH has a 68% success rate in obtaining competitive employment within three months of graduation. The Lawrence programs, however, have celebrated 100% employment success of their student interns in the past three years and have been recognized nationally.

Through opportunities like Project SEARCH, Sunflower members are realizing the promise of Employment First and achieving their dreams. And for James, it was, indeed, a dream come true.

About Sunflower Health Plan

Sunflower Health Plan was established to deliver quality healthcare in the state of Kansas through local, regional and community-based resources, Sunflower is a Managed Care Organization and subsidiary of Centene Corporation (Centene). Sunflower exists to improve the health of its beneficiaries through focused, compassionate and coordinated care. Our approach is based on the core belief that quality healthcare is best delivered locally. To learn more about Sunflower, visit our website at

About Pathways™

Utilizing a whole-person approach to long-term care, LifeShare’s Pathways Integrated Care Model is designed to eliminate the silos that exist within the service delivery system through the bridging of network providers, defining quality outcome measures, and maximizing technology to reduce costs and improve communications. To learn how more about Pathways, contact Holly Morsbach Sweeney, Kansas Pathways Director at

About LifeShare™

Dedicated to the preservation and safeguarding of Civil and Human Rights, LifeShare’s motto is “Real Life for Real People.” Founded in 1995, LifeShare continues its mission to create empowering home and community-based supports for people with developmental disabilities, children in the child welfare system and people of all ages and abilities, particularly those who are often marginalized by society. LifeShare offers a range of services including residential, community-based and in-home support programs, competitive employment, as well as mental health services for children and adults. A national organization headquartered in Manchester, NH, LifeShare currently provides services in eight states (NH, ME, MA, RI, FL, IL, GA, SC) and also consults with Medicaid Managed Care organizations, commercial insurers and state governments. 

A national organization headquartered in Manchester, NH, LifeShare currently provides services in eight states (NH, ME, MA, RI, FL, IL, GA, SC) and also consults with Medicaid Managed Care organizations, commercial insurers and state governments.