Here’s how Farmington is helping students with disabilities

Hannah Grover
Farmington Daily Times
Project SEARCH interns learn to serve food in September at Bonnie Dallas Senior Center.

FARMINGTON — Students with disabilities have taken on a special role in the City of Farmington.

These 18 to 22-year-old students intern in various departments to learn skills that will help them get jobs in the future.

The city partnered with Farmington Municipal School District to mentor these interns as part of a nationwide program known as Project SEARCH.

Five interns will go through a Project SEARCH graduation ceremony in May that will also serve as an acceptance ceremony for the 12 new interns that have received offer letters.

While Project SEARCH has been done throughout the country, this is the first time a municipality has hosted the interns. The majority of Project SEARCH programs are done at hospitals and hotels.

Farmington Human Resources Director Tom Swenk said having a municipality host the interns gives more opportunities to learn a variety of skills.

“We really want them to be treated as employees of the city,” Swenk said.

That means sending out an official offer letter to accepted interns and requiring them to fill out time sheets, call in sick and request time off.

Chelsea Chairion, a skills coach employed by the school district, said she assists the students at first, including fixing time cards if they make a mistake entering their hours. As the year progresses, she reduces how much assistance she provides to the students. By the end of the internship, she said the students have to suffer the consequences, like less pay, if they do not fill out time cards correctly.

These interns are paid through the Department of Vocational Rehab program. The interns also learn independent living skills and set up a bank account as part of Project SEARCH.

This year students worked in various places, including the kitchen at Bonnie Dallas Senior Center, in the Human Resources office, at Sycamore Park Community Center, in the museums and at Four Corners Regional Airport. Each student interned in three departments over the course of the year. Next year’s interns will have additional options, including the Farmington Civic Center and the Farmington Regional Animal Shelter.

One of the biggest challenges was transportation. Most Project SEARCH sites are in a single location, but the City of Farmington provided locations throughout the city for the interns to work. All the students begin their day with classes in the city’s Human Resources department before going to their respective internships. They also finish their day in the Human Resources department reviewing what they have learned.

Swenk said he was impressed with both interns and mentors as they worked to overcome challenges.

“When there was a hurdle, it was kind of like everyone was there to get through it,” he said.

Chairion said every intern wants the community to know that they’re working hard. She said it’s not always easy for these interns, but it is worth it.

The city has been supportive of the program and Swenk told the City Council that the interns have been a great resource.

None of the interns were available for an interview last week.

“I’d like to see this happen across the city with all employers,” Mayor Nate Duckett said during the Tuesday morning work session.

Hannah Grover covers government for The Daily Times. She can be reached at 505-564-4652 or via email at