Now enrolling for summer programs. Click here to learn more.

Russell Haggard’s Transformative Journey: Thriving Beyond Project SEARCH

Russell Haggard’s life took a remarkable turn when he embarked on a transformative journey with Project SEARCH Arkansas: ACCESS Initiative in partnership with Arkansas Rehabilitation Services, a program designed to empower individuals with diverse abilities by providing vocational training and career opportunities. Karen and Dan Haggard, Russell’s devoted parents, recount their journey alongside Russell, navigating through challenges and ultimately finding hope and success through Project SEARCH.

Their move to Fort Smith in 2019 marked a significant transition, with Russell employed at Goodwill in Tennessee, working diligently but uncertain about future prospects following the relocation of the main Goodwill facility. Amidst uncertainties, the Haggards sought support from vocational rehabilitation services, which led them to Shannan Faulkner of Arkansas Rehabilitation Services. Shannan introduced them to Project SEARCH, a structured program offering skill development and training perfectly tailored to Russell’s needs. The Haggards were elated when Russell was accepted into the program as an intern at the Mercy Fort Smith Project SEARCH location, recognizing its potential to provide him with the tools necessary for independence and professional growth.

Russell Haggard’s path to success wasn’t always apparent. “I had initially not wanted to be in the program,” Russell reflects. “But as I grew with the program, I began to develop routines with my internships. I discovered that I could build up skills that would help me with a potential job, such as being on time and meeting expectations in employment.” These internships provided Russell with an opportunity to understand workplace dynamics, interact with diverse individuals, and cultivate essential job-related skills.

As he progressed through the program, Russell’s perspective shifted. “I learned how to deal with people both at the hospital and within the Project SEARCH community,” he says. “I realized the importance of interaction and communication skills, which I could apply in future employment opportunities.” Moreover, Project SEARCH exposed Russell to community volunteering, such as Christmas Honors, a heartfelt initiative honoring fallen armed forces members during the holiday season. Participating in such activities allowed Russell to give back and connect with his community in meaningful ways.

Russell’s commitment to the program was unwavering. He engaged in various internships at Mercy, each providing invaluable experiences. From outpatient surgery to patient transport and linens, Russell’s enthusiasm and dedication were evident, earning admiration from supervisors and colleagues alike.

The impact of Project SEARCH transcended professional growth. Russell exhibited positive changes in behavior, displaying increased flexibility, independence, and better self-regulation. The program not only honed his vocational skills but also equipped him with crucial life skills, fostering greater autonomy.

While the Haggards envisioned Russell working in a setting akin to Mercy, Kellie McDaniel, Russell’s mentor, envisioned a broader horizon. Recognizing Russell’s potential, she directed his path towards ArcBest, a company embracing neurodiversity. This shift led Russell to a role perfectly suited to his strengths – data entry, particularly focusing on Canadian postal codes. Russell’s fascination with geography blended seamlessly with his work environment at ArcBest, contributing to his enthusiasm for the job. His parents witnessed remarkable progress as Russell not only found joy in his work but also gained financial independence, proudly paying his rent. Russell’s dedication and passion for his job were duly recognized, with the CEO acknowledging his contributions and introducing him proudly to colleagues during Family Day at ArcBest.

Karen and Dan Haggard express their delight and pride in Russell’s achievements. They emphasize how Project SEARCH became the catalyst for Russell’s growth, preparing him holistically for the fulfilling career he now cherishes. Russell Haggard’s journey exemplifies the power of support, structured programs, and inclusive workplaces in empowering individuals with diverse abilities. His story serves as an inspiration, illustrating that with the right guidance and opportunities, individuals can surpass expectations and thrive in their chosen paths.