An invaluable local program is preparing young adults with disabilities to enter the workforce
Since its inception at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in 1996, Project SEARCH has grown into an international network united by a common goal: to secure competitive employment for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. The hospital treated a number of individuals with disabilities, and Project SEARCH began when administrators were inspired to hire young men and women in that community to fill many of the hospital’s entry-level positions in a number of departments.
In Seminole County, Project SEARCH has been active for almost a decade and focuses on placing program participants in suitable jobs in healthcare and across a wide spectrum of industries. The program is made possible by a partnership between Seminole County Public Schools, AdventHealth, and Bishop Grady Villas (a ministry of the Catholic Diocese of Orlando).
The program begins with an internship, and this year, the Project SEARCH team interviewed recent graduates from all SCPS high schools to fill 13 available internships in a yearlong program at AdventHealth Altamonte Springs. Beginning with the start of the school year, interns are guided through an orientation process and encouraged to select three rotations within the hospital system. An intern may be interested in working in the Emergency Department to help with tasks such as stocking supply closets; another might have good customer-service skills and assist with discharging of patients.
“We get to know our interns really well and try to match them to departments that would be a good fit for their natural skills,” says Megan Betche, Project SEARCH’s transition resource teacher, who explains that some interns enjoy tasks that may be systematic, such as stocking supplies.
Megan is based at the hospital and helps facilitate the program and its curriculum. She also teaches her participants employability skills like résumé preparation and how to dress for an interview. A typical day for the interns starts with an hourlong group session before transitioning into the day’s rotations and ending with an afternoon debrief.
“Because of the population I serve, I also teach my interns skills like how to advocate for themselves and ask for help, how to use timers to pace themselves with different tasks, or even how to use the transportation systems like LYNX or SunRail,” explains Megan. “We are a very hands-on team. Between the school system, hospital leaders, job coaches, and employment specialists, we do all we can to prepare our interns for the real world and help them find and maintain a good job. It takes a village, and it’s exciting to see students get jobs and see their families so happy, too.”
When the yearlong internship is complete, a Project SEARCH job coach and an employment specialist are instrumental in assisting interns with finding jobs by accompanying them to interviews and filling out employment documents. Once an intern is hired, Project SEARCH provides follow-along services to the newly-employed graduates, such as setting up reliable transportation and scheduling frequent check-ins to ensure that they’re as prepared as possible to join the workforce.
Former Project SEARCH interns have gone on to work at local hospitals, retail stores, restaurants, theme parks, and business offices. Several have stayed on as employees at AdventHealth Altamonte Springs. One recent grad is completing an electrician apprenticeship with a local electrical company.
“We’ve had a lot of success because there is so much support during and after the program,” says Megan. “It’s so important to have programs like Project SEARCH. These interns are extremely capable of being contributors to society and being a part of the community. They have a lot to give back. It’s a win-win for them and for our community. We are looking forward to the upcoming school year and all the possibilities.”
For more information about Project SEARCH, visit ProjectSearch.us.
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