By Joe Bachman
While many high school students play video games after school, Project SEARCH students are hard at work.
Project SEARCH is a work program where students can gain skills and work experience for a multitude of career opportunities. Established in 1996, the the program facilitates employment training for young adults with disabilities. Project SEARCH also works in conjunction with Opportunity Development Centers. (ODC)
You can see the contributions and work ethic in the halls of Aspirus Riverview everyday from these students. From cleaning linens, janitorial work, food prep for home delivery meals, handling important paperwork, unique side projects, and even responding to hospital patients — Project SEARCH students do it all, and it all helps make Wisconsin Rapids Riverview a better hospital.
“The more that we’re given, the more that they learn,” said Project Search Instructor Stefanie Tryba. “Once the staff and supervisors see what they can do, they let them do a little bit more — the staff’s mentality has definitely changed.”
Parents of students often report increased responsibility and incentive in their home life as a result of the program’s job training, and it’s not hard to see why. Students have been known to exceed expectations, leading to self-improvement and even challenging the staff around them. With a motto like “I can. I will. End of story.”, it’s not hard to see why.
“We hear often enough, as much as we are grateful for them for what they’ve done for us, that it’s reciprocated,” said Tryba. “The more and more people hear about Project SEARCH, they buy into it a little more — they get a year of training, and not every high school student comes with that.”
Many times internships will stay in demand over the summer months, which leads to the direct hiring of some students. Once Project SEARCH is done, the goal is to find employment, which is guided by ODC who follows their progress into the community.
During my tour of the facility I met with a couple Project SEARCH students, one of whom is responsible for a cleaning route that is his, and his, alone. Students are shadowed by job coaches that are responsible for them. However, according to Project SEARCH student Brett Peterson, this sometimes isn’t even necessary.
“She stays on my tail once in a great while,” joked a confident Peterson.
Jim Boyd is an employee of Riverview who will be leaving after six years, and he has no shortage of kind words for these students who beat the odds on a daily basis.
“What you learn about these kids is how faithful they are to you,” said Boyd. “They always show up to work, they’re never late, and if you treat them kindly, they go out of their way for you.”
According to Boyd, the difference of these students from when they start the program and when they finish it can be night and day — the benefits of which that affect the hospital as a whole are priceless.
“At the end of the year it’s so different — they’re more outgoing. They give more enjoyment to us, and I’m so proud of them.”
For more information on Project SEARCH, please visit their Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/lhsprojectsearch/