Turning Lemons Into Lemonade
Turning lemons into lemonade is Brittany “Paige” Jones’ new motto. The 30-year-old Red Springs resident hopes that her small business, Easy Peasy Lemon Squeezy Lemonade Stand, will be a new chapter in her young adult life, thanks in part to Project SEARCH at Robeson Community College.
In 2015, RCC’s College and Career Readiness Division was selected as a participant in the national award-winning Project SEARCH program. Project SEARCH is a low-funded program that gathers its success from a pooling of resources from the partnering agencies that operate under the licensed Project SEARCH title. Each agency is tasked with providing counseling, educational, and coaching services to participating students. The program targets recent high school graduates and young adults who have a diagnosed intellectual disability. Each year, eight to ten students are selected for this free program.
“With tremendous assistance and support from the Robeson County Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Southeastern Regional Medical Center and numerous other local businesses and agencies, we have been able to sustain a program that has positively touched the lives of not only the student participants, but their families, employers and members of this community,” says Rocky E. Peterkin, Assistant Vice-President, College & Career Readiness.
Jones is very thankful for the opportunity to have participated in the program. She was able to meet new people and learn job skills that she is able to use in the workforce. “I feel I was able to higher my education,” says Jones.
“I am proud to be associated with a program such as Project SEARCH. The partnership of the College and Career Readiness Division (education), NC Vocational Rehabilitation (counseling), Southeastern Health (business host), and RHA Health Services (job coaching/career development) has shown a true commitment to providing first-hand work experience to the participants. I look forward to continuing the program and assisting more young people in achieving levels of success,” Peterkin said.
For Jones, the program allowed her the courage and know-how to start up her lemonade stand.
The new business has been challenging during COVID-19, but challenges are nothing new for Jones. At only six days old, Jones contracted spinal meningitis and began having seizures. A year after that diagnosis, doctors began noticing her head was growing larger than her body. She was then diagnosed with hydrocephalus, the buildup of fluid in the cavities (ventricles) deep within the brain. The excess fluid increases the size of the ventricles and puts pressure on the brain.
When Jones was in 3rd grade, she officially received the diagnosis of Intellectual Developmental Disability (IDD). IDD includes many severe, chronic conditions that are due to mental and/or physical impairments.
Jones, who is the oldest of her two siblings and the daughter of Tammie Tipton, attended Purnell Swett High School and graduated with a certificate of completion in 2009.
In 2016 Jones and her mother decided to continue Jones’ education and enrolled in Project Search at RCC. While enrolled in the program, Jones completed four internships including hospitality and food prep in the cafeteria. She also worked as an attendant in same-day surgery at Southeastern Health, where she escorted patients to their appointments. In 2017, Jones graduated from the program with a certificate of completion.
While enrolled in the program, Jones learned proper food-handling skills and cleaning techniques in the cafeteria as well as mapping, directional, and social skills.
“Brittany is very sociable and enjoys meeting new people which is a strength in customer service. She is approachable and usually greets people with a smile,” Tipton said. Jones also learned appropriate behaviors in the workplace, time management (clock in/out), proper dress code, money managing skills and job interview skills.
“Brittany was a very bubbly student who never met a stranger,” Banessa Williams-McCormick, ABET Lead Instructor said. “She was always in high spirits and fun to be around and always willing to help. Her goal was to cheer up anyone who was feeling down. If that meant just making them laugh or baking them a cupcake, Brittany was always trying.”
“What we see a lot of time in these students is that their families and the public think they can’t operate on a daily basis with independence. This program allows students an opportunity to learn skills in the hope of finding job, become independent and to go out in the world as being seen as something more than a person with a disability,” says James Mitchell, Educational Coordinator of College and Career Readiness.
It was Jones and her mother’s goal for Brittany to find a job upon completion of Project Search. However, she was never given an opportunity for paid employment. After several interviews, Jones went back to volunteering at the local elementary school where she had been volunteering since she graduated high school.
Two years ago, while on a trip to Wilmington, Jones visited a coffee shop that hired individuals with IDD. It was then that Jones was inspired to do something similar. Jones and her mother began researching ideas and putting a plan together, but then COVID-19 happened. No longer able to volunteer at school and the idea of opening up a little shop put on hold, Jones started going into a depressed state and her mother knew she had to do something.