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Summa Health's Project SEARCH helps young adults with disabilities gain employment

Posted April 18, 2022 by Jessica Goff, Manager, Volunteer Services

two women with arms around each others shoulders

Summa Health is helping to educate and employ young adults with disabilities one student at a time through Project SEARCH.

Since 2005, Summa Health has partnered with the Six District Educational Compact, a regional collaborative that provides career-technical education programs, to offer high-school students a one-year, school-to-work transition program on-site. Modeled after the growing Project SEARCH national program, the initiative is designed to help qualified students make a successful transition from school to the world of work by experiencing hands-on learning in real-world hospital settings.

Each year, the Six District Educational Compact selects up to 12 student interns from the Cuyahoga Falls, Hudson, Kent, Stow-Monroe Falls, Tallmadge and Woodridge school districts. They spend the school year, August – May, rotating through three 10-week work rotations at our Akron Campus based on their interests and abilities. The rotations, which include shipping and receiving, distribution, laundry, patient transport, food and nutrition, information and technologies, nursing education and more, offer students a structured environment to develop their workplace skills.

Student interns are fully integrated into the work of the department and work alongside Summa Health employees doing the same job. In addition, job coaches from our community partners, including the Six District Educational Compact, Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities and Goodwill Industries, are available to help the students learn their jobs and improve their skills, while promoting independence. Throughout the day, they move from student to student offering support and coaching.

Summa Health’s Project SEARCH not only offers student interns the opportunity to develop their workplace skills in entry-level positions, but it also prepares them for competitive employment. These experiences help the students become familiar with the hospital environment, so they may apply for regular employment at Summa Health upon completion of the project.

Summa Health is proud of its Project SEARCH success story. Since inception, we have hired about 25 percent of the student interns and nearly 75 percent of that group are still employed today.

Project SEARCH benefits

Each student and family works with the Project SEARCH coordinator to ensure the participant finds just the right work rotations. Then, as the year progresses, the coordinator helps the student explore the possibilities of employment at Summa Health or to access adult service agencies.

Student interns can expect to:

  • Explore a variety of careers in a health-care setting
  • Acquire a resume, interview techniques and marketable job skills
  • Gain self-advocacy skills, improved confidence and independence

Project SEARCH eligibility

Participants must be:

  • In their last year of high-school eligibility, and have met all graduation requirements
  • On an IEP (Individual Education Plan)
  • Eligible or willing to apply for services with Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD)

Each applicant must fill out a Student Application, have a parent or guardian complete a Parent Application, and have their intervention specialist complete a Teacher Application.

Continued success of Project SEARCH

Project SEARCH is a win-win for Summa Health and participating interns. We get the opportunity to meet our human resources needs, while participating adults with disabilities gain workplace skills and experience, and have the chance to apply and interview for positions here at the hospital.

In fact, one of our main goals of the program is to hire the student interns, and Summa Health has a strong track record of doing so. We are proud to admit one whole shift of laundry personnel, including the supervisor for that shift, are former Project SEARCH participants.

This year alone, Project SEARCH had nine student interns and we have already hired seven participants to date and the school year isn’t even over yet. One of those students was hired into the laundry division earlier this school year and has proven to be a phenomenal employee, especially through the COVID-19 pandemic. He is passionate about the work and is eager to help his fellow co-workers.

Project SEARCH has become a success story at Summa Health so much so that we are looking to expand the program into other areas of the hospital system by the end of this year.

To learn more or apply, visit our webpage on Project SEARCH


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