Project SEARCH interns to graduate at Merit Health

Published 4:00 am Sunday, May 14, 2023

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NATCHEZ – Merit Health Natchez is preparing to graduate its first class in Project SEARCH, a program new to Natchez designed to help students with disabilities obtain competitive community-based employment using real experience in the workplace.

Three interns, including Nathan Gaude, Chloe Hodgson and Patrick Davis, will celebrate their graduation luncheon on May 24 at the hospital.

Merit Health Natchez is the first employer to bring Project SEARCH Mississippi to the city of Natchez.  Project SEARCH is a national program designed to help students with disabilities obtain competitive community-based employment.

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Project SEARCH Mississippi is administered by the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services (MDRS).  Merit Health Natchez, along with the Natchez-Adams School District and MDRS, are pleased to be working with three amazing student interns to provide real-life work experience and skill development opportunities to help them develop independent living skills and move into the workforce.

The interns at Merit Health Natchez follow the Natchez-Adams County School District calendar.

“The student interns began work at the hospital in August 2022, and they will graduate in May 2023,” said Ronnie Calhoun, local Project SEARCH MS Instructor.  “The hospital has welcomed us with open arms and hearts. It has been so rewarding to see their level of confidence explode since August. The interns love interacting with the staff and visitors, and they put a smile on the faces of everyone they encounter.”

The interns are currently in their last round of three rotations, where they work in various departments, alongside Charm Powell, Project Search Job Skills Trainer. The interns have been assigned to Outpatient Therapy Services, Food Services, Medical Imaging, Facilities Management and Environmental Services.

“These three interns have been a wonderful addition to our hospital team,” said Tracy Byers, Interim Chief Executive Officer of Merit Health Natchez.  “They can be seen throughout the day performing their job tasks with smiles on their faces and a friendly hello when you pass them.  Ronnie and Charm are doing a great job teaching them business etiquette and how to present themselves in a professional manner.  These students have made such a positive impression on our employees.  We deeply appreciate the valuable services they are providing us, but it’s their positive, upbeat champion attitude that brings joy to our employees.”

“Providing our students with real-life work experiences in a friendly, supportive environment is key to building the foundation needed to help them be successful in the workplace,” said Kishara T. Wiley-Bassett, Special Services Director for Natchez-Adams School District.

Upon graduation in May, Merit Health Natchez looks forward to another group of interns for the following school year.

“Over 141 individuals with disabilities have graduated from Project SEARCH Mississippi since its inception in 2018,” said Chris Howard, MDRS Executive Director.  “We are proud that 95 of those individuals have gained employment, and the three interns at Merit Health Natchez will be part of the 72 graduating interns across the state in May 2023. We are so thankful Merit Health Natchez helped us bring Project SEARCH to the beautiful city of Natchez, and we look forward to expanding in the coming months.”

Project SEARCH Mississippi is administered by the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services and is a joint partnership between MDRS, a business and a school district.

The Project SEARCH Program is a unique, business-led, nine-month employment preparation program that takes place entirely at the workplace.

Students with disabilities experience total workplace immersion, classroom instruction, career exploration, and hands-on training through three different worksite rotations. The goal for each participant is competitive employment. To reach that goal, the program provides real-life work experience combined with training in employability and independent-living skills to help young people with significant disabilities make successful transitions to productive adult life.

To find out more, go to or call 1.800.443.1000.