Only about one-third of working-age people with disabilities are employed, but a partnership between ADEC, South Bend schools and Beacon Health System is working to change that.
Project SEARCH is a school-to-work training program for people with disabilities. It’s a way to provide employment for young adults with disabilities while also filling high turnover, entry-level positions in local businesses.
The students spend nine months learning job skills and completing internship rotations in various departments of Memorial Hospital of South Bend.
Project SEARCH serves students with intellectual and developmental disabilities who are typically in their last year of high school eligibility. Students are referred to the program through their schools, family members or a vocational rehabilitation counselor, and the most important criteria for acceptance is the student’s desire to attain competitive employment.
The program, which takes place over the course of an entire school year, has two pillars:
—Employment skills: Students work in a classroom on employability and functional skills for about one hour of their day. Activities are designed around focus areas like team building, workplace safety, social skills, money management and keeping a job. During this time, Project SEARCH students are coached on how to answer a workplace telephone, request a vacation or maintain a conversation in an elevator.
—Worksite rotations: Students complete a series of three targeted internships that offer total immersion. Beacon Health Systems places Project SEARCH students in Memorial departments including: major surgery, environmental services, health and lifestyle center, nutritional services, children’s therapy, developmental pediatrics, HealthWorks! And pediatrics.
In January, the four Project SEARCH students in the class of 2018 hosted an Open House at Memorial Hospital of South Bend to explain what they have learned so far. The Open House helps students practice for interviews, as they are challenged to talk about their strengths and their accomplishments.
Browse through the pictures and read about the experiences of each student below.
Guadalupe Dominguez is the first student from this year’s program to receive an official job offer. She said Project SEARCH has helped her become more confident in her abilities.
During her rotations, Guadalupe spent some time in the kitchen, but has also taken on tasks like counting money and managing inventory on stock sheets.
She shared some advice for other adults with disabilities pursuing jobs in the community: “Work hard and don’t give up. Always have a positive attitude. Give it your best. It’s never too late to give anything a try.”
Guadalupe took her own advice and didn’t give up when she came down with an illness that required a kidney transplant. She said she is fortunate to have a very supportive family — so supportive that her mother donated her kidney.
Now Guadalupe is recovered, she is excited to continue working at Memorial Hospital of South Bend.
Patrick Moses, who has spent time in both environmental services and nutritional services at the hospital, has enjoyed working in food prep and being on a team that supports him and makes him happy.
“It’s been great so far,” he said. “I’m living the dream and getting the job done.”
Tim White has spent his rotations in nutritional services, helping to collect dishes from the cafeteria, load them in the dishwasher and sort silverware. He said working helps him feel accomplished.
“I like working with my coworkers and having a good time with them,” he said.
Nathan Hawkins, has also spent his rotations in nutritional services, where he has focused on washing down tables and refilling the soda machines. He makes sure the cafeteria looks presentable by pushing in chairs and clearing trash.
Nathan said he has enjoyed building a support network with his fellow Project SEARCH students and treasures the group picture that was taken outside of the hospital. He enjoys the classroom aspect of the program, where he gets to learn life skills and work on the computer.