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Realizing Her Passion for Providing Lifelong Opportunities and Independence

Written By Jenny Adams

At 15 years old, I began working at a local camp for children and young adults with disabilities. My experiences there were truly life-changing for me. I quickly fell in love with this field and knew exactly what my future would hold. I spent the next six summers working at camp and soon found myself graduating with a master’s degree in Special Education. Throughout my degree program, I continued to be drawn towards working with transition-age students and adults. Honestly, I just found my niche. Helping young adults make the transition from high school to their next step in life quickly evolved into a passion. I witnessed so many young adults get lost during this critical time in their lives, often lacking the skills they needed to successfully make the transition into adulthood. I knew that this was how I wanted to make a difference. I wanted to help these young adults find their path. Everyone needs a purpose. We all strive to lead productive lives, contribute to society, and find meaning in what we do. Young adults with disabilities are no different, they just need additional training and support to realize those goals and dreams.

Without this necessary training and support, many of these young adults struggle after graduating from high school. They have a difficult time finding employment, they aren’t able to live independently, and their social circles shrink.

My journey with ACCESS began 16 years ago, and after teaching upper school at the ACCESS Academy for several years, we identified a need from within ACCESS to help our students transition to their next step in life. ACCESS Life grew from that need. The ACCESS Life program focuses on the whole person, teaching independent living skills, appropriate social/ communication skills, the importance of health and fitness, and vocational skills. Watching young adults grow in this program has been a true joy!

A few years later, ACCESS, in partnership with Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, discovered the opportunity to offer a second adult program within our community. Project SEARCH Arkansas: ACCESS Initiative is an innovative job training program that provides a nine-month internship at local business sites for young adults with developmental disabilities. I was given the opportunity to help get this program off the ground and watch it grow.

We began the program with 13 young adults and two employees. Today, we have served more than 400 young adults and have a team of almost 30. We’ve spread throughout Arkansas and have reached further than we ever thought possible. I have seen so many lives changed because of this program. Project SEARCH’s goal is to help young adults find employment, but we understood that the program was doing more than helping them find jobs. Once the young adults found success in employment, they quickly realized that they were capable of so much more. They found confidence, and it was absolutely amazing to watch! These graduates began growing in their jobs, taking steps to become more independent in life, developing new relationships, and pursuing dreams they didn’t realize they could achieve! Project SEARCH, for many, served as a stepping stone to help them take that next step in life.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 19.1% of people with a disability are employed. That statistic breaks my heart! We have so many young adults who want to work and are capable of being such amazing employees. They just need the training and support to help them get there. ACCESS’s vocational training services are fully committed to helping these young adults find employment in the community, and I am so excited to be a part of this initiative.

After working in the upper school at ACCESS Academy, with ACCESS Life, Project SEARCH, and even with our CES Medicaid Waiver department, Vocational Programs and Training 18 Realizing Her Passion for Providing Lifelong Opportunities and Independence How Jenny Adams, Director of Vocational Services, Strives to Grow Vocational Opportunities for Adults with Disabilities " " I am excited to begin a new position here at ACCESS: Director of Adult Services. My goal is to help grow ACCESS’s programs in all aspects of adult life for individuals with disabilities, from personal independence and community integration to vocational training and more. We have already done so much, but there is still so much more we can do to build brighter futures!