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From Timid to Team Player: How Project SEARCH Arkansas: ACCESS Initiative Gave Katie the Confidence to Find Success

Adult woman working in laundry room.

In 2019, Betty Caughron’s daughter Katie began the St. Bernards Project SEARCH program in Jonesboro, Arkansas, one of seven host business sites for Project SEARCH Arkansas: ACCESS Initiative in partnership with Arkansas Rehabilitation Services. “In high school, Katie was shy and struggled with a speech impairment that made it difficult to converse with others,” explained Betty. “When Katie learned about Project SEARCH, she was excited about meeting other young adults like her and developing essential job skills for the future.”

“When I first met Katie, she was very quiet and timid,” recalls Mary Housewright, Instructor/Coordinator for the St. Bernards Project SEARCH program. “She struggled with communication and rarely spoke in a group setting.” However, Katie found her voice during her time at Project SEARCH. “While in the program, Katie began to talk more in public and gained an enormous amount of confidence,” said Housewright. “When we had oral assignments in the training room, Katie would not only be the first to volunteer to speak, but she also commanded respect and asked for active listening from the group before she would continue.”

Katie’s progress began garnering attention outside the Project SEARCH program. During her internship with the Laundry department at St. Bernards Medical Center, Katie was recognized for her hard work by receiving a "Bravo Gram," an award for going above and beyond while working in the hospital. She was the first recipient of this award that was not actually employed by St. Bernards Medical Center!

During Katie’s Project SEARCH internship, she was offered a position in the Laundry department at St. Bernards Medical Center, traveling around the hospital, delivering sheets, gowns, towels, and running the washer and dryers. “Since becoming employed by St. Bernards in 2020, Katie has mentored several Project SEARCH interns in her department,” explained Housewright. “She is clear on how to train others and works hard to ensure that the interns feel confident with their job tasks.” Katie has, so far, mentored 12 interns. She has been employee of the month three times, and she has received another Bravo Gram.

"This program has changed her," reflects Katie's mom Betty. "Katie now enjoys meeting new people and can hold conversations. She shops, drives, and pays her own bills. She is a valued part of the St. Bernards team, and we are so grateful to Project SEARCH for giving Katie this opportunity!"