RIVER FALLS, Wis.
Project SEARCH interns and parents joined hospital staff to walk with the Allina Health entry in the River Falls Days parade in July.
Students with disabilities will spend a year gaining real-life, transferrable skills at River Falls Area Hospital, part of Allina Health.
It’s all part of Project SEARCH, an international program being held in River Falls for the first time this year as a partnership between the host site – River Falls Area Hospital – and the community partners supporting the student interns: Bridge for Community Life, River Falls and Ellsworth school districts, TMG, Wisconsin Department of Workforce Development and ContinuUs.
Starting September 1, 11 students will rotate around hospital departments, spending about a month in each area, in the program which aims to give them a head start in the competitive employment marketplace. Internships are offered in areas ranging from the Medical-Surgical unit and Emergency Department to Human Resources and Environmental Services.
"Project SEARCH provides students with disabilities an authentic work experience in a supportive environment," said Jackie Steinhoff, director of student services for River Falls School District. "Each day, students will work on learning professional, interpersonal and independent living skills that aid them in their path to potential employment. As a school district, we could not provide this type of experience without the partnerships that build community. The enthusiasm from all parties is contagious."
Students and hospital staff have already had a chance to get to know one another at a meet and greet lunch in June, walking together in the River Falls Days parade in July and volunteering together at the Pierce County Fair in August.
Project SEARCH was developed at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center in 1996 to train people with developmental disabilities with the skills needed to secure competitive employment. Since its inception, Project SEARCH has grown from a single program site at Cincinnati Children's to more than 300 sites across the United States and Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland, and Australia.
In Wisconsin, successful Project SEARCH programs have already been held at the WalMart Distribution Center in Menomonie, St. Elizabeth Hospital in Appleton, Children's Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, the University of Wisconsin Hospital in Madison and others. Last year, 85 percent of the participants in Wisconsin’s Project SEARCH programs found employment upon completion of the program. More than 130 students have benefited from Project SEARCH in Wisconsin alone since 2008.
"Although we are a health care provider, the work we do at River Falls Area Hospital is not just providing health care – our goal is to be a good partner to the community we serve," said David Miller, hospital president. "This program will be excellent for the students who take part in it, but it’s going to be good for us at River Falls Area Hospital, too, and I’m convinced we will get more from it than we will ever be able to give."
A $12,000 grant from the River Falls Area Hospital Foundation helped offset some of the expenses associated with the program, such as staff training, program supplies and student orientation costs.