Project SEARCH seeks student applicants for unique internships

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At a recent Open House, Project SEARCH Senior Project Coordinator Jennifer Woods with Seton Healthcare Family explains the unique, business-led, one-year unpaid internships available to Liberty Hill High School students with developmental and intellectual disabilities. (Dana Delgado Photo)

At a recent Open House, Project SEARCH Senior Project Coordinator Jennifer Woods with Seton Healthcare Family explains the unique, business-led, one-year unpaid internships available to Liberty Hill High School students with developmental and intellectual disabilities. (Dana Delgado Photo)

By Dana Delgado

Securing employment can be a difficult process for anyone, but for students with developmental and intellectual disabilities, the search can be overwhelming.

To address this challenge, the Liberty Hill Independent School District looks to continue to foster its 2016 formalized collaborative partnership with the Seton Healthcare Family and Project SEARCH, a unique, business-led, one-year unpaid internship that provides total workplace immersion in a seamless combination of classroom instruction and relevant job-skills training.

“We are changing the perspective of individuals with disabilities,” said Project SEARCH Senior Project Coordinator Jennifer Woods with Seton Healthcare Family. She emphasized that the interns impact the community as their collective success challenges preconceived biases and stereotypes about persons with intellectual and developmental disabilities in the workplace.

According to Woods, internships are being funded through the reallocation of resources within Seton.

Elyse Tarlton, director of Special Education for Liberty Hill ISD, said the internships with Seton offered excellent opportunities for students with developmental and intellectual disabilities.

With the current cycle of interns nearing their completion, applications are now being accepted for the 2017-2018 academic year. The application process is competitive and requires an interview with a selection committee. Two critical expectations are commitment and attendance, but students considering admission into Project SEARCH must meet the established criteria. Student applicants should be eligible to receive Texas Workforce Commission services, be receiving Special Education services developed by Individualized Education Plan that will lead to graduation under the Foundation High School Program.

In addition, applicants should complete all academic course requirements, complete transition assessments showing needs in the area of employability and self-help-skills and be interested in competitive employment.

The application deadline is Feb. 3. Interviews will be conducted in the latter part of February and the beginning of March with selections announced in mid-April. The application and additional information are available at www.seton.net/projectsearch. Specific questions can be submitted to Project SEARCH via email at projectsearch@seton.org or by calling 512-324-5985.

According to Woods, Seton’s Project SEARCH has graduated 118 interns since 2007 with 89 percent receiving job offers. Seton hired 48 while 57 other interns found employment in the community.

Presently, two Liberty Hill students are participating in the school-to-work initiative. Interns follow the school district calendar while participating in three distinct rotations lasting approximately 10 weeks a rotation. Their schedule is typically 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Transportation to and from the site is the responsibility of the intern, but presently LHISD is providing transportation to and from Seton Highland Lakes in Burnet, which is designated as the supporting site for Liberty Hill. Besides Seton Highland Lakes, a host of other Seton hospitals are supporting Project SEARCH throughout central Texas including Seton Medical Center Hays, Seton Medical Center Williamson, University Medical Center Brackenridge, and Seton Northwest. Within that network of hospitals, a variety of departments are involved in supporting the initiative including pharmacy, oncology, dietary services, cardiology, materials management, environmental services and maternity services.

Locally, the workplace immersion internship provides one dedicated team of support and innovative collaboration involving businesses, rehabilitation and disability service providers along with LHISD and the Seton Healthcare Family. The Texas Workforce Commission, Goodwill Industries, and Bluebonnet Trails Community Services round out the collaborative partnership.

LHISD is providing an instructor and one to two job coaches while Goodwill Industries is committing a trainer who serves as both a job coach and a job developer. Bluebonnet Trails Community Services is providing long-term follow along and retention support.

One of Project SEARCH’s success stories featured by Seton is Lena, a 19-year old who completed the internship and is working a 40-hour week with a cancer center where she checks in patients, answers the phone, enters lab orders into the computer and delivers specimens to the lab. A graduate of Bowie High School in Austin, Lena is saving money to live on her own and is looking into taking classes in phlebotomy so that she can eventually work directly with patients by doing blood draws.

“If it weren’t for Project SEARCH, I would probably still be looking for a job.  Now I get to interact with different people every day and help them, even when they’re having a bad day,” she said.

Project SEARCH evolved in 1996 at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center from a belief that the hospital should commit itself to hiring individuals with disabilities whom they were serving, according to ProjectSEARCH.us. The belief led to the formulation of partnerships and the launch of an initiative that has grown to over 300 sites across the United States, Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Australia. In 2004, the national Project SEARCH model received the New Freedom Initiative Award from the US Department of Labor for innovative efforts in advancing the employment of people with disabilities.

Seton Healthcare Family introduced the successful hands-on training model to Texas in 2007 and has been recognized for its implementation and success.

News@LHIndependent.com

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