Since its beginning 26 years ago at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, Project SEARCH has played a vital role in the lives of students with disabilities who want to advance their skills, become increasingly marketable to employers, and live as independently as possible while making valuable contributions within their own communities. Project SEARCH has grown into an international network of program sites and provides a unique blend of classroom instruction, hands-on training through worksite rotations, supportive job coaching, and individualized career exploration.
Students attend the program for a full school year at the host business where they will become familiar with the culture of the organization, their work group, and job responsibilities. They will build communication, problem-solving, technology, and teambuilding skills. They also regularly interact with supervisors to arrange interviews and gain valuable feedback.
Project SEARCH emerged in Erie in response to an increased need for a transition-to-work program that focuses on helping young people with disabilities make successful transitions to productive adult life. I had the unique pleasure of speaking at the second annual Project SEARCH Graduation held on the Alleghany Health Network Saint Vincent Hospital campus.
A special thanks was extended to Project SEARCH sponsors, including Allegheny Health Network Saint Vincent Hospital, The Office of Vocational Rehabilitation, the Erie County Department of Human Services, the Erie School District, and the Barber National Institute. Students’ families have played an important role in supporting them throughout their time in the program, and the success of Project SEARCH in Erie would not be what it is without the involvement of so many families. This year’s graduation ceremony featured five outstanding graduates, and ten more students are enrolled in the program for the fall.
When Dr. Barber established the Barber National Institute 70 years ago, it was to make sure that all children and adults had every opportunity to become an active participant in their community. The COVID pandemic has not stopped us from reaching the important goal of ensuring that students take part in the real-world work experiences that prepare them for success in competitive integrative employment.
Employers have also benefited from Project Search in that they are able to achieve a diverse and inclusive work culture where people of different backgrounds, perspectives, and ideas are given an opportunity to learn and grow within their chosen career paths, offer their viewpoints, and impact decisions made throughout the organization. We know that employers whose workforces reflect the diversity within their communities are resilient, innovative, and adaptable.
I was so impressed by the young people who graduated from Project SEARCH this week who have shown such hard work, diligence, and dedication. As they move on to jobs at Allegheny Health Network Saint Vincent, and other employers, they should be proud of what they have accomplished and know that we are inspired and proud of them!