Editor’s Note: Shine a Light is an internal series at Consumers Energy that spotlights individuals and teams on a mission to create an inclusive workplace. In April, Noah Cantrell, a current Project SEARCH student, was highlighted for World Autism Awareness Day. Read on to learn more about Noah and the Project SEARCH program.

Meet Noah

Noah Cantrell, current Project SEARCH student from Jackson High School, has worked with the Parnall Mail Room, Operations Performance, and Learning & Development throughout this academic school year. He openly shared with us his journey with autism and how Project SEARCH has helped him in hopes of inspiring and empowering co-workers or family members who may have a disability also.

“Project SEARCH has helped me improve my autism disability significantly. Before I came into Project SEARCH, I had severe anxiety and some mood disability and lacked work environment experience. I have worked previous jobs in the past, and before I came into Project SEARCH, I always had trouble leaving my mood disorder at the door, along with my anxiety struggles. Once I entered Project SEARCH, a whole new world opened. I have learned not to carry my load of anxiety wherever I go. I do still have minor troubles with anxiety, but not as it once was, and I have left my mood at the door.

Once I arrived at Consumers Energy, all those negative feelings no longer affected me at the workplace. Megan Hall, my Project SEARCH Instructor, has taught me how to manage those feelings. I could not thank her enough for her help. Along with the skills trainers, Nathan Peavy and Michael Horton, I have gained significant life lessons in the work environment, gained courage, and they empowered me to overcome my disability. All the teams I have worked with this year have given me new skills that I can use in the future. Project SEARCH helped me overcome so many fears and problems. I am stronger and more capable than day one here.

At the start, you may think it is hard, but once you get the hang of a workplace like Consumers Energy, it’s not; it will make you stronger, better and feel more confident in yourself. Here at Project SEARCH, you are not alone. People will help you; you can accomplish so much in life. Just let these fantastic people help you. Don’t let autism make you feel put out. It’s a privilege. You’re just as important as everyone else. Before I came to Project SEARCH, I had one friend and now, I have many. I have so many good memories, laughing and telling jokes, something I thought I would never have but now I do. As I approach graduation, I have many new skills that I can use for an office job, and I find it enjoyable. I owe Project SEARCH so much for giving me a whole new world of possibilities and opportunity for a great paying job – one of the many reasons Project SEARCH is so wonderful.”

 Autism Awareness

Each year on April 2, we celebrate World Autism Awareness Day.  According to Autism Speaks, World Autism Awareness Day focuses on sharing stories and increasing acceptance of individuals with autism, to create a world where autistic people are fully embraced, supported, and celebrated. This year marks the 17th annual recognition for verbal and non-verbal autism, or autism spectrum disorder (ASD).  This disorder refers to a various conditions characterized by challenges with social skills, repetitive behaviors, speech, and nonverbal communications. According to the Centers for Disease Control, autism affects an estimated 1 in 36 children in the United States today.

About Project SEARCH

Programs like Project SEARCH prepare individuals with a broad range of disabilities. Even though there are many misconceptions of autism, we all can do our part to lean in, listen, learn, and build a workplace where everyone is celebrated, welcomed, and feel they belong. The Project SEARCH program is managed through our Business Employee Resource Group, capABLE. Never make assumptions – we are all capABLE.

At Consumers Energy, we are completing the sixth year of partnership with Project SEARCH , a national program whose primary objective is to secure competitive employment for people with disabilities. Project SEARCH is a one-year, school transition program that provides training and education through internships while fully immersed in a host business. The program supports students with a wide range of cognitive and physical disabilities, but autism is the most common. Collaboratively, the program prepares young adults with disabilities to enter the workforce with marketable and transferable skills. Certified special education teachers and skills trainers work with both the students and business staff. Since its inception at our company, about 55 students have participated in the Consumers Energy program and 42 students have graduated with seven more expected to graduate in May 2024.

Learn more about Project SEARCH in Jackson County, through Project SEARCH – Jackson County Intermediate School District (jcisd.org).