Chesapeake Program Provides Career Training for Student with Disabilities

We are so happy to partner with Chesapeake Regional Healthcare, Virginia DARS, Virginia Department of Education, specifically Chesapeake public schools who are all working toward making Project SEARCH a success!  It is such a great opportunity for many talented and wonderful students in the area looking forward to bright careers ahead of them.  We already have so many success stories of students' accomplishments with Project SEARCH and we can't wait to facilitate even more!

Chesapeake program provides career training for students with disabilities
By Lisa Perkins and Julie Green

This year Chesapeake Public Schools entered into a collaborative relationship with Chesapeake Regional Healthcare, the Virginia Department for Aging and Rehabilitative Services, The Choice Group and the Virginia Department of Education to bring Project SEARCH to the school division.

Chesapeake Public Schools Project SEARCH is a school-to-work transition program that takes place entirely at Chesapeake Regional Healthcare.

The program fosters classroom instruction and hands-on training in three 10-week internships and allows for individuals with disabilities to explore various career opportunities.

Project SEARCH began in 1996 at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center where co-founder Erin Riehle was director of Emergency Management. Riehle saw the opportunity to teach students with disabilities how to perform some of the necessary tasks in the department. Since then, it has expanded to more than 225 sites across 40 states and four countries.

Chesapeake Public Schools implemented the program after it received a technical assistance grant in 2015. It is one of 15 Project SEARCH sites in Virginia.

The goal of the program is for its graduates to find employment within the community.

While at Chesapeake Regional, the interns successfully completed internship rotations in the following departments: Dietary Services; Emergency Department; Emergency Room Registration; Occupational Health; Observation; Health Information Management; Information Technology; Sterile Processing Department; Surgical Admitting Unit; Environmental Services Housekeeping; Environmental Services Waste Management; Gift Shop; Materials Management; Security Services; and Radiology.

Because of the success of the program and the quality work provided by the interns, Project SEARCH was expanded to Cedar Manor Assisted Living Center during January. Cedar Manor is a subsidiary of Chesapeake Regional Healthcare where interns work in similar rotations.

The 2015-16 inaugural class of interns represents five of the city’s seven high schools. The students created a culminating statement to capture their final year of school: “Project SEARCH is for young adults in their last year of high school where they learn new professional work skills, such as communication, leadership, and teamwork to become independent in their work futures.”

To date, seven of the 11 interns have gained competitive employment with the help of Project SEARCH classroom instructor Julie Greene, job coach Courtney Stukes, vocational counselor Matt Olson and a job developer from The Choice Group.

Chesapeake Regional Healthcare also provided department mentors for each of the interns during their rotations, and the students are grateful for the collaboration.

“I’ve learned how to better communicate, how to work as a team member, how to get around the hospital, and I’ve met many new people,” said Haron Williams, who enjoyed making and serving drinks during his time working at All the Perks, Chesapeake Regional’s cafĂ©.

Intern Sean Harrington was hired by Chesapeake Regional to work as a supply technician for materials management in the operating room stockroom.

“I make sure the staff members have the right supplies they need for successful surgeries in the operating room,” he said. “I enjoy healing others, and my main goal is to help patients get well.”

Interim President and CEO of Chesapeake Regional, Dr. Alton L. Stocks, is interested in continuing the program.

“It is our privilege to work with the students of Project SEARCH as they learn the skills necessary for future employment,” Stocks said. “Our team has witnessed the students’ commitment and dedication to the training on a daily basis. We are delighted to have one of those students join us as a new employee, and we look forward to a continued partnership with Chesapeake Public Schools.”

The interns graduated from Project SEARCH on June 2 at a celebration held at Chesapeake Regional Healthcare’s Lifestyle Center. The graduates were surrounded by family, friends, teachers and their mentors, who shared in their accomplishments.

Next year, the program will begin again with 11 new interns.

“School-to-work transition is an area of increasing focus for Chesapeake Public Schools,” said Craig Pinello, director of special education. “We are very pleased with the partnership at Chesapeake Regional and the work the entire Project SEARCH team has done to promote the independence and success of our interns.

“The program not only benefits our students, but our entire community.”

To view the original article on The Virginian-Pilot, click here.


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