A program at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center in College Station helps high school students with special needs explore career paths in the medical field.
The program, called Project SEARCH, is an international network of sites working to secure employment for people with disabilities. Students in the program are supported by their families, a special education teacher and rehabilitation services.
Interns receive additional support on job-related skills used in the workforce, said Beth Sherry, an instructor with College Station ISD’s SEARCH Project. These can include skills such as interacting with others and following instructions, as well as any other skills that can stand in the way of success, Sherry said.
Typically, these difficulties are seen in their communication with peers and supervisors, Sherry said.
“Sometimes it’s not about understanding instructions or knowing how to follow and handle social situations and then just reading facial signals and body language. Things like that are really where we see the most impact in Project SEARCH,” Sherry said. “These kind of communication skills or difficulties are things that can get an employee fired, but in the internship we can use them as learning opportunities and through those learning opportunities they can learn the skills necessary to help them keep a job outside Project RESEARCH.
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About six former interns from the program have been hired by Baylor Scott & White since the partnership began in 2014, and another has a job offer on the table, Sherry said. Project SEARCH hopes to create opportunities for interns to get any type of job, Sherry said.
“We have former interns who work at grocery stores around town like Brookshire Brothers, one of our interns has just been hired at BCS Pure Water, but after Project SEARCH they really can be hired at any which company wants to hire them,” she said.
Angelo Romano, a Project SEARCH intern, said he heard about the program from his mother and thought it would be a good way to help her learn the skills needed for the workforce. Since starting his internship, Romano said, he has worked in supply chain, catering and check-in. Supply chain was his favorite, he said.
“In supply chain, I had to restock items in different rooms in the hospital. I did small menial tasks like cleaning up and taking out the garbage and other tasks like checking the packages, reading the labels, making sure the packages were going where they were supposed to go and delivering them into the hospital,” Romano said.
Romano said his autism was both a blessing and a curse. While autism has affected the way he learns and interacts socially, it has also helped him improve his creativity.
“I like to draw and write and I’ve drawn some pretty cool little creatures and written some pretty interesting stories,” he said.
Romano said the program helped him understand how the hospital works and the types of jobs he does and doesn’t want to do. Romano said he was looking for a job where he could stock shelves.
“It helped me understand how things work when it comes to finding a job,” he said. “I’ve learned to make friends at work and basically it gives me confidence that maybe I have a bright future ahead of me.”
Sherry said the program is open to anyone under the age of 22.
“We want employers to be aware as well, as they could potentially hire our interns, but we also want people to be open-minded about hiring people with disabilities, especially those with autism,” said Sherry.
For more information about the program, visit csisdprojsearch.weebly.com.