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Project Search expansion brings skills training to adults with developmental disabilities

PROVIDENCE, R.I. After five years of success with its three youth locations, the Office of Rehabilitation Services (ORS), a division of the Department of Human Services (DHS), expanded its partnership with others to open a new site for adults with disabilities ages 21 to 30.

Project Search is a training program for people living with developmental disabilities that helps prepare them for competitive employment.

As part of the expansion, eight interns started in the school-to-work program at Rhode Island Hospital on Monday, October 15. This addition is a collaboration between DHS, Rhode Island Hospital, the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities and Hospitals (BHDDH), the Department of Labor and Training (DLT) and Goodwill Industries.

"All Rhode Islanders should have an opportunity to meaningfully engage in their communities," said Executive Office of Health and Human Services Secretary Eric J. Beane. "It is fitting that we are celebrating the expansion of Project Search during National Disability Employment Awareness Month, which highlights the important contributions people with disabilities make every day to our workforce and state. We've made important progress in connecting people of all ability levels with training and employment opportunities; this program is an important part of the equation. Congratulations to all involved in making this expansion possible and ensuring more people have the opportunity to realize their goals and find jobs in the community."

Project Search started in Cincinnati in 1996, and it has since spread internationally. Rhode Island's three youth sites, funded by a federal grant and partner investments, are at Miriam Hospital, Blue Cross Blue Shield and Newport Hospital. There have been 57 graduates total, with 77.2 percent successfully finding employment upon completion.

"It is extremely rewarding to see students gain confidence throughout the schoolyear; it empowers them to showcase their skills, talents, and abilities as they move into the workforce as young adults," said ORS Associate Director Ron Racine.

Said DHS Director Courtney E. Hawkins, "We all get dignity from the opportunity to work. Creating employment opportunities for individuals with disabilities through Project Search ensures they have the opportunity to experience that feeling of dignity as well. Getting all who can work to work is also important for the State's future, and through Governor Raimondo's leadership, we plan to not leave anyone behind."

The Project Search site at Newport Hospital, which Director Hawkins visited Friday, has had 100 percent of its 11 graduates find employment after completion. The hospital even hired one of its graduates. The three current students rotate job responsibilities over the 30 weeks in kitchen/dietary, facilities maintenance, mailroom and other areas. Class curriculum includes financial literacy, appropriate work behaviors and situational topics such as how to deal with difficult situations.

Kristen Gilbride, who has been a teacher for 19 years and is working with Project Search for the first time, said the built-in supports and patience shown by the hospital staff is what is needed for the students to thrive. The staff said it is their goal to have them leave better than they arrived.

"We try and crack the shell [of the interns] because underneath, are beautiful spirits," said Pamela McLaughlin, the hospital's Director of Patient Experience.

The new adult program at Rhode Island Hospital will have the interns in rotations for supply distribution, the linen room, operating room sterilization, mail distribution and other areas.

ORS funds job development and placement, while the hospital provides the classroom and integrated work sites. Goodwill Industries provides the teacher and job coach. DLT provides a grant and BHDDH also provides day service funding. Like the youth programs, there is no cost to the participants.

"BHDDH believes that everyone deserves the opportunity to live a meaningful life in the community of their choice," said Rebecca Boss, Director of the Department of Behavioral Healthcare, Developmental Disabilities & Hospitals. "This includes the opportunity to live, work and spend time in an integrated community. Project Search makes that belief a reality and we are grateful for the expansion of the program."

Said Scott Jensen, Director of the Department of Labor and Training, "Project Search is an innovative program that recognizes the need to leverage all of the talents Rhode Islanders have to offer. This expands access to jobs and meets employer demand for a prepared and diverse workforce."

The adult program's graduation is planned for June 14, 2019.

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