Project SEARCH Helps Local Students with Disabilities Find Jobs

Alex Boullion photo

Melbourne, FL – Finding a job immediately after graduation is a dream for many students, but it was a reality for Alex Boullion. After completing the Project SEARCH program in December 2014, Alex, who has speech and learning disabilities, began working in the central services department at Holmes Regional Hospital within the month. “Project SEARCH was really beneficial,” says Alex. “The teachers and counselors saw my inner talents and helped me succeed.”

Project SEARCH is a unique program designed to help students with developmental disabilities successfully transition from high school to the workforce. Over the course of a year, students have the chance to participate in targeted internships hosted at job sites across the state of Florida. It’s a collaboration between school districts, community partners, host sites, Vocational Rehabilitation, and the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.

“Project SEARCH is a full immersion experience. It’s like we moved the classroom to a job site,” says Florida Project SEARCH Coordinator Beth Romans-Corsi. “The program involves extensive periods of training, exploration, and long term coaching from teachers, job coaches, and employers. Our end goal is for students with significant disabilities to be in complex and rewarding jobs.”

Florida Project SEARCH leads the nation with 21 sites, the highest number of sites of any state, and approximately 160 youth were served in the program for the 2013-14 school year. It also boasts an impressive 70 percent or higher employment rate for participants.

Holmes Regional Hospital and Cape Canaveral Hospital are two of six Project SEARCH sites to reach 100 percent employment for their students last year. The four other sites are the City of Hialeah, Rosen Shingle Creek, Florida Hospital-Winter Park, and Florida Hospital-Orlando. Every intern trained at these sites during the 2014-2015 school year has been able to find a job after completing the program.

Maria Trieste, Project SEARCH supervisor for Holmes Regional Hospital and Cape Canaveral Hospital, credits the program’s team mentality for its job placement achievement. “A lot of the success has to do with the large team surrounding the students and assessing their strengths,” says Maria. “We work as a team to improve the students’ skills, and the focus is always on employment.”

For Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor Lynda Schuchert, who has worked with many students in the program, Project SEARCH has found success because it gives people with disabilities the chance to prove themselves on the job. “The staff at the job site has been impressed with the students,” she says. “They first expected that the students would just do volunteer work, but the students learned real skills during their internships and showed what they can do.”

With new job sites and school districts expressing an interest in the program, Project SEARCH is likely to grow in the years ahead, helping to make lifelong employees of more students like Alex Boullion.

“I’m going to stay in my job for a long time,” says Alex. “I’m happy here. I don’t want to go anywhere.”

Florida’s Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) is a federal-state program committed to helping people with disabilities become part of America’s workforce. The employer-focused website, https://abilitieswork.employflorida.com/, allows businesses to search at no charge for employees who are ready to go to work, as well as to post available jobs. VR has 90 offices across Florida, and last year helped 5,760 Floridians with significant disabilities get or keep a job. For more information about VR and its services, call (800) 451-4327 or visit http://www.Rehabworks.org.