An internship program for young adults with disabilities is connecting high school graduates with real-world skills and job placement.
The nine-month internship program — called Project SEARCH and hosted by Butler Tech — includes 36 interns per year between the ages of 18 and 21 with intellectual or physical disabilities.
The international program is made possible locally through partnerships with Butler County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, and local school districts and businesses, said Tony Huff, director of special services for Butler Tech.
“The biggest thing is we’re trying to help them enter the workforce in entry-level jobs,” Huff said.
West Chester Hospital is the latest business to join the venture, currently hosting 11 interns across areas of the hospital, including food services, emergency department, sterile processing, housekeeping, imaging, materials management and gift shop, said Tom Daskalakis, chief operating officer of West Chester Hospital.
Daskalakis said it was a natural fit to join Project SEARCH because the hospital already partners with Butler Tech’s health care, culinary and cosmetology students.
“It’s really made a positive influence on our staff and patients,” Daskalakis said. “We’ve seen a higher level of morale in our departments.”
Miami University in Oxford and Atrium Medical Center in Middletown are the two other internship sites in Butler County since the program started in 2006, Huff said. Interns complete three 12-week rotations and some classroom time to learn various job skills.
Mollie McIntosh, job training instructor for Project SEARCH, said the program teaches problem solving, multitasking, time management and communication skills. The interns also gain independence and social interactions, Huff added.
West Chester Hospital has already hired one of its interns to a full-time position in food services, and a second intern is expected to be hired in the near future.
Tori Fox, 20, of Hamilton, who graduated from Hamilton High School in 2012, went through Butler Tech’s Project Life program — an introduction into adulthood and the workforce — before starting as an intern at West Chester Hospital last August.
Fox is in the midst of a week-long job trial in housekeeping and is on her way to part-time employment at the hospital. Fox said her duties include stripping the beds after a patient is discharged, sanitizing the room, making the beds and mopping the floors.
Fox has a cognitive disability that makes it hard for her to read and write.
“I’ve learned a lot. … It’s mostly work and focusing on your job,” Fox said. “My most fearful thing right now is stepping into the world now and people not being there; growing up and becoming more independent than I was before.”
Daskalakis said the internship is like a “year-long interview,” and when job vacancies arise the hospital already has a pool of candidates to pull from. He said this will become even more important as baby boomers continue to age and the demand for health care rises.
“These individuals have shown their responsibility and ability to contribute,” Daskalakis said.