Growing up with disabilities can be hard enough, but then life can get even more difficult when you’re old enough to start working and living on your own.
Project SEARCH, an international school-to-work program, has been assisting youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities in Anchorage, Alaska since 2011. The program provides classroom and at-work training for clients ages 18 to 22.
Providence Alaska Medical Center’s partnership with Project SEARCH has three key aspects: The hospital provides classroom and administrative space for the program, hands-on training, and also hires clients into hospital positions.
"Providence has the perfect environment for transitioning these young adults into the workforce by providing opportunities to experience what competitive employment is like."
- Beth Talcott, teacher with the Anchorage School District
Pilot program evolves into partnership
“Providence Alaska became involved with Project SEARCH in 2011 with the first group of interns working with us for just the spring of 2011 as part of a pilot program,” says Laarni Power, community partnerships coordinator for the hospital. “Since then, each cohort of interns is with us from August through May, following the school calendar of the Anchorage School District."
"Our program is a collaboration between Providence, the Anchorage School district, the state Governor’s Council on Disabilities and Special Education, the state Department of Labor’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, and The Arc of Anchorage.”
- Laarni Power, community partnerships coordinator, Providence Alaska
The program provides internship opportunities to gain employment skills through three job rotations of 8-10 weeks in different departments throughout the school year. Providence caregivers supervise, train and mentor the interns, the school district provides a teacher and a job coach, and The Arc provides a second job coach that is funded by the state. The interns gain relevant skills and experience, as well as confidence with job searching skills.
“Over the course of the program, we’ve hired five former interns for various teams,” Power says. “Three moved on to other opportunities and two remain with us, working in nutrition services and in our neonatal intensive care unit.”
A safe place to learn
Beth Talcott, a teacher with the Anchorage School District, leads the classroom portion of Project SEARCH.
“From the school district’s standpoint, the partnership with Providence is crucial as it serves as the host site for our interns,” Talcott says. “Providence has the perfect environment for transitioning these young adults into the workforce by providing opportunities to experience what competitive employment is like, while giving them work experience to list on resumes, making them more employable.”
Talcott says that Providence leaders have been happy to write letters of recommendation for each person at the end of their internship, which has also aided them in job development. “Providence is also a safe place for the interns, as they are figuring out how they can learn from mistakes without worrying that it will hinder future endeavors,” she adds.
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