FORT SMITH – Officials with Mercy Health will gather with community leaders today to kick off what they are touting as an innovative program that prepares young adults with developmental disabilities for employment.

The announcement will take place at the Sicard Education Center on the Mercy Hospital campus, 7001 Rogers Avenue.

The Project SEARCH Arkansas: ACCESS Initiative began as a partnership between ACCESS and Arkansas Rehabilitative Services (ARS), a division of the Department of Career Education. ACCESS is a Little Rock-based, nonprofit organization offering evaluations, therapy services, education and vocational training for individuals with special needs.

Mercy’s involvement in the project is a reflection back to founder Catherine McAuley, who left behind a legacy of helping others.

“Mercy’s approach always has been to get involved in and treat our community with compassion,” said Ryan Gehrig, president of Mercy Hospital Fort Smith. “This extends to providing employment training for these dependable, hard-working and kind young adults.”

Project SEARCH is a nine-month vocational training program that assists young adults who have disabilities with finding employment. Eleven interns are working in a variety of departments at the hospital as they gain transferable skills toward gainful employment. The state-wide program has 63 students enrolled this year and has served more than 170 in its first five years.

“ACCESS is so excited to be partnering with Mercy and Arkansas Rehabilitation Services to bring this unique, on-the-job training program to Fort Smith,” said Tammy Simmons, executive director of ACCESS. “The Mercy Project SEARCH program offers Arkansans with developmental disabilities an opportunity like no other to develop the skills needed for meaningful work while discovering individual purpose and independence.”

In Arkansas, the ACCESS and ARS partnership has developed multiple Project SEARCH training sites, including the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences, Arkansas Children’s Hospital, CHI St. Vincent – Hot Springs, Ouachita County Medical Center and St. Bernards Healthcare.


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