Since 2007, Project SEARCH at The University of Toledo has helped dozens of individuals with disabilities get work experience through internships.The program brings high school seniors from Penta Career Center in Perrysburg to UT to complete three internships on Main and Health Science campuses. Many of the internships involve custodial work, warehousing, food services and more.
“It’s a best practice in the special education realm of transitioning students with disabilities into the world of work,” said Amanda Williams, Project SEARCH instructor with Penta Career Center. “It’s a best practice because you’re giving the students a supportive environment that can’t be replicated in a school setting.”
Daniel, a student in the program, works with Environmental Services and Food and Nutritional Services on Health Science Campus.
“I’m hoping to get a job in the real world,” he said.
Trinity, another Project SEARCH student, works with Aramark on Main Campus to help prepare food at the restaurants.
“It has helped me speak up a little more,” she said. “I’m normally pretty shy.”
Justin works with the Outpatient Rehabilitation Center making beds, readying rooms before patients come in. He wants to get a job doing this in a nursing home when he graduates.
“I like working with the patients and the doctors and nurses,” he said.
Ragen works in the residence halls as well as Gillham Hall, helping to clean. During her last rotation, she helped care for linens at UTMC.
“I’ve really enjoyed my internships,” she said. She recently applied to work at McDonald’s.
Project SEARCH began in 1996 as Students Exploring Alternative Resources at Children’s Hospital at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. Since then, it has grown to include programs like the one at UT in settings across the country and around the world.
The program has many goals for the students. They pick up skills like talking to their boss, taking initiative in their work instead of being told, and making sure they finish jobs in a timely fashion.
And the program also teaches them how to feel comfortable in an interview setting.
“If this program was not in existence and these students were going their typical high school route, they may or may not graduate with a job,” Williams said. “Some of these students may be sitting at home without a job. Sitting at home, for anybody, means that their social circle may be very limited.”
On Thursday, May 22, at 11 a.m., a ceremony will be held at Penta Career Center in the Frederick L. Susor Auditorium to celebrate the senior Project SEARCH interns.
For more information on Project SEARCH at UT, contact Williams at 419.260.0070.
“It’s nice to see people’s attitudes change regarding what our students are able to do,” Williams said. “But I think we still have a long way to go; there’s still a lot of stigma and discrimination.”