United Ability interns find success in jobs and life through Project SEARCH. Find out how.

United Ability and UAB

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United Ability and UAB
Ethan Major, Aaron Grant and CamRon Hamilton working at UAB Hospital. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Meet Ethan Major, CamRon Hamilton, and Aaron Grant—three of the most inspiring young men you will ever encounter.

All three have autism. They each work at UAB Hospital. The program that makes this possible is Project SEARCH, a collaboration between United Ability, Birmingham City Schools, the Alabama Department of Rehabilitation Services and UAB. Find out how it works.


Meeting Ethan, CamRon and Aaron

When we first met Ethan in the chaotic hallways of UAB Hospital, he welcomed our entourage with an infectious smile. You could tell immediately that he loves his work and the people around him. “It’s an important job!” he said.

We later met up with Aaron and CamRon. Each described how meaningful it is to them to have a job. Aaron has experience working at his school’s library and is now at the UAB Central Pharmacy. “I work so much, I actually make too much money,” he said.

CamRon recognized how proud it has made his father.

Project SEARCH

Ethan, CamRon and Aaron have a bright future because of Project SEARCH.


An international program that was brought to Alabama in 2012, Project SEARCH is a 9-month job training program for students with disabilities that are in their final year of high school. The goal is to prepare, train and establish full-time employment for the students. They receive work-based individualized coaching, instruction and feedback.

Putting Special Talents to Work at UAB Central Pharmacy

Aaron Grant and CamRon Hamilton working at UAB Hospital. Photo by Pat Byington for Bham Now

Partnerships with local businesses and institutions such as UAB make Project SEARCH work.

“Aaron, Ethan, and CamRon are primarily responsible for delivering medications to our infusion patients, including chemotherapy infusions, on an outpatient basis,” said Matthew Joiner, who is the supervising pharmacist of the Central Pharmacy at UAB. “They were originally hired to be couriers, but we found that their attention to detail was very good.”

Joiner quickly discovered the three young men had a special talent that is invaluable to UAB. They have a remarkable ability to sort the medications dispensed from UAB’s automated system.


”They make sure things (medicines) get placed in the appropriate bins. Since we have so many nursing units that have special codes, they are able to decipher those codes and put things in the right place.”

The Most Complex Pneumatic Tube System You’ve Ever Seen

After sorting, Ethan moves medications from place to place at UAB through a complex pneumatic tube system, much like the one you see at a bank drive-through. But instead of the tubes moving 20 to 40 feet, the UAB tube system moves prescriptions around several massive buildings within five to seven city blocks. Ethan knows all the codes by memory to accurately deliver the medication to the right place.

Bottom line: they play a critical role in the distribution of medications throughout the system.

“It’s really amazing the level of attention to detail that they have and the value that they give to the Department of Pharmacy. They love the structure. They love the repetition. And they love doing good,” Joiner said.

Transformational

Project SEARCH is transformational.


Transition Specialist Margaret Gordon works with the students in several ways, such as teaching social skills, how to get a job and how to keep a job.

“I remember that first person I worked with that got a job. It’s thrilling, they are so excited. It’s pure joy and transformational.”

Joiner chimed in stating, “These wonderful folks here, I think bring more to us than we give to them.”

Katie Dumais, the Manager of Employment Services at United Ability stated: “ we are proud to be a partner with Project SEARCH and see the difference it makes in the lives of students in the Birmingham City Schools.” Katie went on to say, “this is just a small piece of what United Ability does to provide meaningful employment for individuals with disabilities.”

Full Potential

Ethan with Katie Dumais and Wendy Lawless of United Ability after receiving his award. Photo courtesy of United Ability
106 year-old Dorothy Levy received The Randy West Lifetime Achievement Award at the recent Birmingham Area Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities luncheon for her work in the founding of United Ability, formerly United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Birmingham that provides job training and placement for individuals with disabilities.

Ethan was awarded the Large Business Employee of the Year (2018) by Gov. Kay Ivey at her annual Birmingham Area Governor’s Committee on People with Disabilities luncheon. Recognition like this goes a long way in building the confidence needed for Ethan to continue to reach his full potential.


And perhaps CamRon summed up Project SEARCH best.

“I love working here to become a better man and to reach my full potential.”

Sponsored by:

Birmingham, United Ability

Author: Pat Byington

Longtime conservationist. Former Executive Director at the Alabama Environmental Council and Wild South. Publisher of the Bama Environmental News for more than 18 years. Career highlights include playing an active role in the creation of Alabama's Forever Wild program, Little River Canyon National Preserve, Dugger Mountain Wilderness, preservation of special places throughout the East through the Wilderness Society and the strengthening (making more stringent) the state of Alabama's cancer risk and mercury standards.