Every single employer needs one thing: good employees. Luckily, our ministry has a program that finds helpful people to fill roles while also giving students with developmental disabilities skills and training to help them shine in the workplace. This program is called Project SEARCH.
“We proudly work with our Project SEARCH interns to help them learn as well as acquire skills they need to become employable in the future,” Aimee Kuhlman, director of environmental services at Mercy Health – St. Rita’s Medical Center, shares. “This is important to our ministry as well as our community. If we do not give them that opportunity, it’s possible no one will. We all need a first chance and someone that is willing to give it to us.”
Project SEARCH is a transition-to-work program founded by two employees at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in 1996 as a way to help people with disabilities secure competitive employment. It’s now used at more than 650 sites internationally, including in our Lima, Lorain and Springfield markets.
High school-aged students with disabilities are selected through an application process. Once in the program, they spend time learning different skills by interning in different hospital environments. Over the course of nine months, interns get to try three different roles in settings that range from the emergency department to patient transport, human resources and more.
“Our community is impacted greatly by teaching and training students with disabilities who are an untapped and underused workforce,” Jeana Baucant, the Project SEARCH coordinator in Mercy Health – Springfield, says. “With good mentorship, practical experience and hands-on training, students can feel confident finding competitive community employment when they finish Project SEARCH. Support is in place to help interns not only find employment but maintain it once employed.”
Nationwide, the employment rate for all Project SEARCH sites was 55 percent for 2019-2020 interns, but we are proud that our programs sometimes see even more success. For instance, Mercy Health – Lorain’s employment rate is 81.3 percent and 96 percent of Mercy Health – Springfield’s interns found employment within their first year of graduation. Additionally, the most recent graduating class in Mercy Health – Lima had an 89 percent employment rate.
“The numbers really do speak for themselves on how successful the program is,” Aimee adds. “We have great mentors and the departments truly invest their time in the interns. Watching the interns grow through the course of the program is incredible. I have eight interns that are employed throughout my own departments – one of which has been in my top three monthly transporters for the past two years. We have a few that have perfect attendance as well.”
Each year, the goal of the Project SEARCH program is to help more people with disabilities find the skills and training necessary to be employed.
“The value these interns gain from their experiences with Project SEARCH are beyond measurable,” Leigh Taylor, the Project SEARCH coordinator for Mercy Health – Lima, shares. “This program aligns the individuals to reach a higher potential then they ever would have expected. Out of the 67 interns who have graduated the program, more than 15 of the interns have been hired at St. Rita’s Medical Center and are still employed, even gaining recognition for their achievements and overall longevity. This is what we strive for when working with the interns.”
In addition to helping these young people find jobs, the program also teaches them other important life skills.
“Our hospital staff treat the interns like family. It’s a very positive relationship,” Sharon Wilson, manager of clinical education for Mercy Health – Lorain, shares. “Our team members see the growth in the interns during the year and they’re proud to be a part of it – to the point that they miss the interns when they aren’t here. This program is truly an example of how we’re living our mission and helping our community to grow and thrive.”