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DFN PROJECT SEARCH INTERNS WALKING OVER 3700 MILES FOR IMPORTANT LOCAL CAUSES

DFN Project SEARCH Dumfries and Galloway, a leading charity that supports young people with learning disabilities and autism to move into work, has embarked on a motivational fundraising challenge with its 2020-2021 cohort.

All 12 of this year’s interns and two regional members of staff started their ambitious fundraiser at the beginning of February and are aiming to walk over 3,700 miles by the end of March for Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary's Intensive Care Unit and the Calside Primary Sensory Garden and Playground, where, when it is safe to do so, the interns will also go to support some of the building work.

The distance covered, which totals an average of 10,000 steps per day or 500,000 steps over the two-month period, represents the journey from their home in Dumfries to the Project SEARCH headquarters in Cincinnati, Ohio where Project SEARCH started 25 years ago.

DFN Project SEARCH holds the exclusive master franchise rights in the UK, Ireland, and Iberia to the prestigious Project SEARCH programme that has been developed in the US and across the world.

The charity works to build a more inclusive society by helping young people with learning disabilities and autism to access high quality work-related learning through immersive supported internships and leading to improved opportunities to access long-term, full time paid employment.

DFN Project SEARCH has ambitions to get 10,000 young adults with learning disabilities and autism into full-time paid jobs over the next decade and 20,000 in the next 15 years.

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic significantly impacting the programme, the Dumfries and Galloway branch of the organisation has handed the reigns of the fundraising project over to the young people, who are hugely passionate about collaborating together after the cancellation of all of their work experience placements.

The collective fundraiser gives the interns the opportunity to improve their own physical and mental health after around seven months of solely online coaching as well as providing an opportunity to positively impact their two chosen local causes.

DFN Project SEARCH Dumfries and Galloway Job Coach, Greg Cameron: "It's been really inspiring to see our 2020-21 cohort set up and run this fundraiser, coming up with the challenge of walking the distance from our home to the home of Project SEARCH in Cincinnati. It was the most ambitious of the ideas they developed but to see them all get behind it and be so passionate about it has been fantastic.

"The COVID-19 pandemic has obviously impacted us all and, as a result of the necessary restrictions imposed, our hard-working interns have seen their usual work placements cancelled and their normal routines uprooted. So, this fundraising challenge was a great opportunity to keep them engaged and motivated whilst finally being able to take some of their development opportunities offline. It also allows them to make a difference to two local, and very deserving causes, learning and developing some fantastic transferable skills, as well as improving their physical and mental health, in the process.

"We are honoured that both the Dumfries and Galloway Royal Infirmary's Intensive Care Unit and the Calside Primary Sensory Garden and Playground are onboard with this challenge and are allowing us to put our name to their fantastic work."

DFN Project SEARCH Dumfries and Galloway Intern, Jade Kirkpatrick: "It's definitely a big task for us all to walk 10,000 steps a day until the end of March but I think we are all excited about the challenge and I love finding new routes and taking pictures to showcase our progress.

"We all have different roles and responsibilities and my job is to be the communications officer as well as the administration team leader, gathering up the steps and analysing the data to know how far we have walked and how far we have to go. So far, we are doing a good job and have already reached Oxford.

"I like writing, creating documents, handling information and making spreadsheets and I have been doing that since I was ten years old. My role has given me the motivation to learn more and be better at it because before lockdown I was going to be doing the NHS work placement but I never got to do that. It has definitely been a privilege to work on this fundraising project instead."

DFN Project SEARCH Dumfries and Galloway Intern Angie Harvey: "The intern programme has been disrupted by the pandemic and we’ve spent a lot of time listening to others talk about their jobs and experience because we haven’t been able to do our own work placements. This fundraising challenge has given us the chance to get our own story out there and we are really happy about that

"It is giving us the opportunity to develop our skills, raise money and also to show what we can all do. For example, I am the team leader for marketing on the project and I have been really pleased to use my voice in this leadership position to share and promote what we are doing, to manage the content that we are sharing, coming up with ideas and being a champion for everyone’s efforts.

"We chose to support the Intensive Care Unit because NHS staff have not had the chance to stop at all, they have been working hard right through the pandemic so we wanted to help in some way. The Calside Primary Sensory Garden and Playground was a cause that another intern presented to the group and we could all see the benefit of helping younger children in the area who maybe have additional support needs."

DFN Project SEARCH Director and Programme Specialist, Carmel McKeogh: "Our DFN Project SEARCH Dumfries and Galloway team have done a great job keeping their interns engaged and motivated during this challenging year and this fundraising project is just one of many great examples of the creativity we have seen from our interns and staff over the last 12 months or so. I am very proud of the interns and it’s wonderful to see them really coming together for two excellent causes. I wish them all the best of luck."

Donations can be made on the group’s fundraising page at https://gofund.me/75690baa

Follow the interns journey on their Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/projectsearchdumfries/