Justin Mason loves working in a professional kitchen. He’s got his future job title all picked out.
“Japanese cuisine chef. I just like their cooking styles. Whenever you watch them cook it’s like art.”
Mason is from Nikiski and is one of five graduates from this year’s Project SEARCH program, joining Ian Smith, Gracie Satterwhite, Philip Kitchen and Michael Petrovich.
Project SEARCH is a partnership between the school district, Central Peninsula Hospital and local businesses. This was the 12th class to complete the program, and all have jobs lined up. Now, that’s not the express goal for the students or interns, rather, but it’s a happy side benefit to acquiring the skills they pick up over the course of the year.
Here’s a quick rundown of how it works from Skills Trainer Joe Gallagher.
“They spend the first hour and a half of the day, 7:30 to 9 o’clock with myself and special education teacher Cindy Worley. And we go over job resumes, social skills, life skills, things of that nature, that are going to be important to their success. At 9 o’clock in the morning, they head out on their rotation. We line the interns up with rotations that suit their goals, so if an intern has an interest in food, he can go into the dietary department.”
Precisely what Justin Mason did.
And while he’s not a trained Japanese chef quite yet, he has got local job lined up as a prep cook.
Clayton Holland is the Director of Pupil Services for the school district. He says participation from local businesses is a big boost for the program, but one of the real keys is the mentoring that helps connect the interns with opportunities.
“I think what we’ve found over the years is those mentors really become very integral parts of the lives of these students and really cheer for their success and give them those key skills. The hospital and our other partners have done everything from providing mock interviews and resume writing... Everyone’s gone beyond, I’d say, what the normal scope of the job might be and has put all that extra effort in...That’s what they bring everyday.”
I asked Justin if he was nervous about being finished with Project SEARCH and heading to work. Of course not. He can’t wait to be on that team.
“(And) be able to work with people and see how much better we can make it than if you’re working by yourself.”