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Project SEARCH program reaches milestones

June 13, 2020

This was the 10th year for the educational program at WellSpan York Hospital and the fifth year at WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital


The Project SEARCH program student interns at WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital

The Project SEARCH program student interns at WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital

Students in the class of 2020 have faced their share of disruptions and challenges this year. From online classes, Zoom meetings and virtual graduations, in-person education quickly moved to an online experience in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

For the 12 student interns with Project SEARCH, a training program for young adults with disabilities, they took this year's interruptions in stride, made changes and adapted to a different way of learning.

This year marks the 10th anniversary for the program at WellSpan York Hospital and the fifth anniversary at WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital. Project SEARCH is a one-year, school-to-work program for 18 to 21-year-olds. Participants gain valuable experience through on-the-job training and classroom instruction.

Each year, new student interns learn important communication skills, how to budget money and how to search for a job.

Embracing diversity and creating an inclusive workplace

WellSpan is committed to creating a safe space, where our diverse communities are represented and each team member feels welcomed, respected, valued and included – including those with disabilities.

"Any form of disability is a dimension of diversity and WellSpan is made better by Project Search and its participants," said Kimberly Brister, senior director of Talent Acquisition, Diversity & Inclusion.

Honoring their accomplishments

As the students and their guests recently gathered to celebrate their graduation, they clapped, cheered for one another and even reminisced about their school year during this year’s Zoom ceremony. More than 100 people filled the York and Gettysburg graduation Zoom rooms to honor the graduates.

During the last 10 years at WellSpan York Hospital, 84 student interns have graduated and 81 percent have obtained jobs, with 27 of those students being hired by WellSpan.

WellSpan Gettysburg Hospital employs one Project SEARCH graduate and another graduate is a volunteer, said Nicolle LeGore, Project SEARCH and Lincoln Intermediate Unit (LIU) teacher. During the last five years, 22 students graduated from the Gettysburg program, with 80 percent or more of these graduates obtaining outside jobs.

"We are privileged to have worked with more than 25 different departments and feel especially gratified working with the WellSpan staff members who mentor and teach the interns," said Ruth Moore, Project SEARCH and LIU teacher.

Student interns learn as they rotate through various departments, including Housekeeping/Environmental Services, Food and Nutrition Services, Patient Transport, Laundry, the retail shop and Receiving, to name a few.

Influencing lives

Project SEARCH is a collaboration among WellSpan, the LIU, the Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR), York/Adams Mental Health Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities program (MH-IDD) and participating school districts.

And, through these partnerships, the health system has seen the influence the program has had on students and their mentors, said Diane Sargeant, senior director, Organizational Learning and Development (OL&D).

Each year, OL&D team members also assist students in the classroom with some of their training.

"Project SEARCH has not only brought out the full potential of the students, it has impacted those who have been their mentors," Sargeant said. "The mentors have developed leadership skills by investing in the development of the interns."

The students have an impact on the departments they have joined and have even become mentors for other students.

"Their enthusiasm, hard work and commitment have been described as 'infectious,'" she said.

Three student interns at WellSpan York Hospital were hired this year by the health system. This year's remaining graduates will continue to work with OVR as they transition into the job market.

Alan Leash, 21 was a student intern when he was hired full-time as part of WellSpan York Hospital’s Housekeeping staff, said Jandy Felix, his supervisor. He had worked there through his rotation and in January, he was permanently hired.

"Alan rotates his cleaning areas every few weeks and he does a great job with his cleaning tasks," Felix said.

He uses a checklist to clean areas like the stairwells and elevators along with floors and specific touch points, his dad Scott Leash explained.

"He's very organized and loves keeping things clean," Scott said.

With a goal of obtaining his driver’s license and eventually owning a home, Alan gained valuable independent life skills through the program, he said.

"Project SEARCH is a wonderful program and I can’t say enough good things about it," Scott said. "Everybody is so understanding and caring."

For Sargeant, participating in the program since its inception has been a blessing.

"For me personally, being involved in Project SEARCH has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my career," she said.