At Montefiore Medical Center and P721X in the Bronx, students with disabilities are getting the opportunity to expand their knowledge and professional skills through an initiative called Project SEARCH. This school-to-work transition program is a gateway for these students to become acclimated to the business world while gaining invaluable life experience.

Project SEARCH was founded at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in response to high turnover rates in certain entry-level positions. Erin Riehle, then the hospital’s Director of the Emergency Department, recognized a solution by incorporating the facility’s newly established diversity initiative, which called for hiring more people with disabilities.

Now international, Project SEARCH has over 490 programs in 49 states and nine countries. Participating businesses include hospitals, federal and state governmental agencies, local school districts, universities, and many private sector areas.

In addition to the Montefiore program, AHRC NYC has expanded its Project SEARCH program to the other four boroughs: Brooklyn Hospital Center and P721K; Staten Island University Hospital and P721R; New York Presbyterian Queens Hospital and P721Q; and RXR Realty and M751 in Manhattan.

Collaboration is Key

This is a collaborative program between a variety of partners, from the school to the business to the funding sources [OPWDD and ACCES-VR] to the service provider, which is AHRC NYC,” Michele ShapiroProject SEARCH Program Director for AHRC NYC’s Employment and Business Services said. “The program is very structured in providing the students with three different internship opportunities, so it gives them the training to explore different areas of work and interests and develop different skill sets.

Jim Kernochan, Lead Teacher for Project SEARCH at Montefiore Medical Center

Jim Kernochan, Lead Teacher for Project SEARCH at Montefiore Medical Center

Total workplace immersion at a host employer facilitates classroom instruction, career exploration, and relevant job skills training through strategically designed internships. The program takes place during the last year of school and is available for up to 12 students with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Following the school calendar, the internships begin in September and end in June.

AHRC NYC and Montefiore have partnered with P721X, a District 75 school located near the hospital. “It’s a combination of teaching the interns the vocational skills necessary to work, in addition to the life and independence skills for being able to transition from graduation to the workforce,” Jim KernochanLead Teacher, said. “What’s most important is that when they graduate they understand that you’re leaving an environment where you’ve had adults taking care of them. Now they are independent, perhaps living on their own, all those things they’ve only dreamed about.

Dana PolitisDirector of Community Workforce Programs at Montefiore, praised the effective collaboration between all of the Project SEARCH partners. “We all speak regularly, and AHRC understands a lot of the trends and changes going on [at Montefiore]. They are very adaptable. You need all of the key players to really make this work.

Dayquan Lewis works in Montefiore Medical Center's kitchen

Dayquan Lewis

Interns Find Success and Fulfillment

We work in different departments, such as in housekeeping, kitchen duties, and even the central supply department, including different floors where we have to deliver to,” Dayquan Lewis said. He presently works in the kitchen area. “I love it here. It keeps me organized and awake, and makes me have more confidence.”

Shakeem Blanco Gonzalez

Shakeem Blanco Gonzalez

Shakeem Blanco-Gonzalez was part of Project SEARCH and has since been hired part-time at Montefiore doing a variety of clerical responsibilities. “To become employed takes time but when the time comes, it’s good,” Shakeem said. “I was very timid adjusting to life changes. What my experience here, my teachers and my parents have taught me is to keep moving forward with life and the job.