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New Congressional Intern Program for Disabled College Students

Mason LIFE

WASHINGTON -- A pilot project that offers Congressional internships to disabled college students has worked so well in its first year it's been made permanent. The brainchild of Mississippi freshman Congressman Gregg Harper, the program is managed by the House Administration Committee and George Mason University. It will be providing interns to the offices of twelve House members in the Fall.

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A first term Congressman says his biggest accomplishment so far is personal.

Good morning, filling in for Elizabeth Wynne Johnson I'm Sara Sciammacco; this is Power Breakfast from Capitol News Connection

When Republican Gregg Harper ran for Congress in 2008 he told voters he would be a voice for children with intellectual disabilities. He has a 21-year-old son who has been living with a genetic disorder known as fragile ex.

One year and a few months into his first term, the Mississippi congressman teamed up with the House Administration Committee and George Mason University to start a pilot internship program on Capitol Hill for disabled college students.

HARPER: "It is personal to us because we have a child with special needs and it is something we campaigned on a couple of years back and we tried to fulfill that commitment."

The internship program, which began in the spring, is now permanent. And about 12 House congressional offices will participate this fall when Congress returns from recess. Intern responsibilities include responding to constituent mail and answering phone calls, entering information into office databases, and giving visitors tours of the Capitol.

GRAPH: "It is a chance for them to get to see a different side of the Capitol you know right from the inside so to speak."

Heidi Graff runs the university program Mason Life which provides graduate student job coaches for the congressional interns.

GRAPH:"For us it is a win win situation because then this George Mason student gets this experience of being able to job carve and job coach and set-up schedules for students so that when they graduate they can go into vocational employment."

Right now plans are in the works to offer the internship to students at other colleges. And there's some interest in the program from members on the Senate side.

Congressman Harper says it is an opportunity to give families hope. His son Livingston has taken classes at a local junior college, and has aspirations to attend a four-year institution one day.

That's Power Breakfast from Capitol News Connection

Capital News Connection by: Sara Sciammacco from Washington, DC on Aug 12, 2010