Senior Profile: Omar Adam, Athens Drive High/Project SEARCH

  • omar adam in the kitchen

    May 19, 2022

    Student: Omar Adam

    School: Athens Drive High/Project SEARCH

    Career aspiration: Continued supported employment

    Omar Adam is an outstanding senior who has hardly set foot in school all year. Instead, Omar does his learning on the job at the Embassy Suites Raleigh-Durham/RTP in Cary, where he is one of eight students with disabilities participating in Project SEARCH.

    Project SEARCH is a unique one-year school-to-work program specifically for Wake County Public School System high school students with disabilities whose goal is competitive employment. Students start with a morning vocational lesson, then begin working in the hotel from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m., with one break for lunch. The day concludes with a reflection period. 

    The goal is to get students ready for continued employment after graduation. The program is in its third year. Most of the 14 previous graduates are currently employed, says Project SEARCH instructor Brandi Pittman.

    Omar, who is deaf and has cognitive disabilities, stands out for the joy and pride he takes in his work. “Omar always has a smile on his face, a huge greeting for everyone, and is genuinely excited to come to Project SEARCH and work each day,” Pittman says. “He has consistently shown above-par work ethic and always has a positive attitude. He is always willing to try new jobs and to work extra hard when asked to do more by his supervisors.”

    'A whole new life'

    omar adam chopping onions

    Omar has learned jobs all over the hotel, though he particularly likes working in the kitchen. “I learned how to make the beds as a room attendant and double check all of my work,” he says through American Sign Language interpreter Laura Kirks. “I learned how to cut up all the vegetables and peel carrots. I like cutting vegetables and cooking chicken on the grill. I learned how to go to work on time, and I learned the importance of having a good attitude.”

    Omar has overcome a lot to get to this point. His family moved from Somalia to the United States when he was 8 in hopes of finding more resources and opportunities for a student with disabilities. “He learned a whole new language, new customs, new requirements at school as he had not been in school previously, and a whole new life,” Pittman says.

    He also has had two bouts with Bell’s Palsy. “Through it all, Omar continues to smile and be excited everyday,” Pittman says.

    'Keep learning'

    Project SEARCH is just the kind of program Omar’s family came to America to pursue. 

    His father, Abdiaziz Warsame, says they learned about the program from Omar’s teacher at Athens Drive High. “We wanted Omar to learn life skills and get training outside of the school,” his father says. “We want him to be prepared to work. Omar has to be busy. He wants to keep learning new skills and not just stay at home.”

    'Great attitude'

    omar adam in cap and gown

    One key work skill Omar has learned from Project SEARCH is how to effectively communicate with co-workers. He uses gestures and body language, as well as texts and photos on his phone. And Pittman says many of Omar’s co-workers have also learned some American Sign Language so they can communicate with him.

    “Omar is an absolute pleasure to work with,” says Embassy Suites Executive Chef Matt Thompson. “He has a versatile skill set and is very thorough, along with his infectious smile and positive attitude.”

    After graduation, Omar hopes to find similar supported employment, and he may take a class at Wake Tech to continue to hone his skills in the kitchen. “Omar is living proof that you can overcome a lot with hard work and a great attitude,” Pittman says. “I’m excited to see what the future holds for him.”