WellSpan recently explored the lived experience of being neurodiverse and having a brain-based disability during Celebrate Diversity Month in April. Alan Leash, a team member with autism, has been working hard and growing since we first met him in a Project SEARCH story two years ago.
Alan, a housekeeping aide at WellSpan York Hospital, had a dream of owning a home with his dad, Scott Leash. Thanks to WellSpan’s Project SEARCH program, that dream became a reality just before Christmas in 2021, when they purchased their first home together.
A 2020 graduate of the Project SEARCH program, an educational and training program for young adults with disabilities, Alan, 23, was hired full time as part of the housekeeping staff while participating in the program.
Project SEARCH is a one-year, school-to-work program for 18- to 21-year-olds at WellSpan York and Gettysburg hospitals. Students gain valuable experience through on-the-job training and classroom instruction.
Each year, student interns learn important communication and life skills, how to budget money, and how to search for a job. They rotate through various departments, including Housekeeping/Environmental Services, Food and Nutrition Services, Patient Transport, Laundry, the retail shop, and Receiving.
During his time as a student intern, Alan learned different vocational skills as part of his training.
“I learned how to take out the trash for the whole hospital, how to clean the stairways, elevators, and the parking garage,” he said. “It was similar to school, but I was getting to work also. I loved it!”
Currently, Alan is a member of a more than 175-person housekeeping team responsible for cleaning the elevators and stairwells at WellSpan York Hospital.
Although working throughout the COVID-19 pandemic restricted how Alan and others completed their daily tasks, he took his duties in stride.
“When I first started, I was a little worried about getting sick, but I knew I had to keep things clean so nobody else would get sick,” he explained.
Now, two years later, Alan continues with this same work ethic and follows his daily checklist, only now he’s armed with his own pager and available at a moment’s notice.
“Alan has so much enthusiasm for work, he is excited to come to work every day,” said Alan Rasmussen, director of Environmental Services at WellSpan York Hospital. “When I offered him the job, he asked me ‘Can I work here forever?’ I told him yes, he may work here as long as he wants.”
Through Project SEARCH and his permanent job, Alan said he has gained the confidence he needed to make lots of friends, become more responsible, and succeed at his job.
“Alan has had such a positive impact on all of us in the department and the hospital,” Rasmussen explained. “He’s just a great example of someone who loves what they do, where they work, and he brightens our day with his unbridled enthusiasm, desire to always do his best, and his passion for cleaning.”
That’s also had a positive effect on Alan. “I don’t think I’m as shy and quiet as I used to be,” he said. “I wanted to help people so that’s why I wanted to be in Project SEARCH.”
Impacting lives for more than a decade
Project SEARCH is a collaboration among WellSpan, the Lincoln Intermediate Unit, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), York/Adams Mental Health Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities program (MH-IDD), and participating school districts.
Now in its 12th year at WellSpan York Hospital and seventh year at WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital, the graduates have not only been hired at WellSpan but also at area businesses throughout the region.
Since the program started in York, 96 student interns have graduated and 81 percent have obtained jobs, with 31 of those students being hired by WellSpan. In Gettysburg, 32 students have graduated from the program since its inception, with 25 students, or 78 percent, obtaining jobs.
This year, one of the interns is working at Wendy's while others are seeking employment at local businesses and colleges in the region, according to Nicolle LeGore, Project SEARCH teacher, WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital.
Like Alan, many of the graduates go on to achieve remarkable things, added Ruth Moore, Project SEARCH coordinator at WellSpan York Hospital.
Besides working their way into full-time jobs, they have obtained their driver's licenses, purchased cars, saved money for vacations, purchased homes, and gotten married.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to watch the interns’ growth – not only during the year at Project SEARCH, but over the course of the years,” Ruth said.
As for Alan’s dad, he believes the impact the training program has been on Alan is amazing.
“He’s more social in new environments and I feel he has gained a tremendous amount of independence,” Scott said.
What’s next for Alan? He is working to obtain his driver’s license and owning his own pickup truck.