Johns Hopkins All Children’s is in its seventh year as a host for Project SEARCH, an international program – in collaboration with Pinellas County Schools – dedicated to increasing job readiness skills and competitive employment among young people with significant intellectual disabilities. Four interns in the class of 2021, dressed sharply in black polos and khaki pants, are learning and sharing their skills and talents on campus this year.
As part of All Children’s overall commitment to our core values of diversity and inclusion, hospital leaders made the decision to keep the program in place this year despite the pandemic, with prevention measures in place and a smaller group of students.
The interns (through age 21) are on campus five days a week. Their day begins at 8 a.m. in a classroom with teacher Janna Worsham and skills trainer Jessica Scott, who lead lessons on daily living and employability skills such as teamwork, decision-making, budgeting, resume writing, interview techniques and nutrition. From 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. they work in their host departments, followed by a 30-minute debrief with Jessica and Janna.
Hospital departments that have welcomed student interns over the years include Food Service, Child Life, Environmental Services, OT/PT, Speech Therapy, Audiology, Supply Chain, Gift Shop, Simulation Center, Post-Anesthesia Care and Sterile Processing. The Human Resources team assists with these placements and supports the interns and staff as needed. Staff in these areas make a commitment to hosting and mentoring the interns.
The program can bring inspiration to the staff members in host departments. “We have found that it’s not just about training for a specific position – providing focused training on one specific task within the position helps to build confidence overall,” says Sandra Degen, food service supervisor. “The interns bring out the best in each of us as we recognize our ability to make a difference in someone’s life. I recently sat in my first Employment Planning Meeting with Project SEARCH and I was overwhelmed and brought to tears by the heartfelt gratitude shared by the students and parents.”
“This entire experience will stay with us for a lifetime and has opened our eyes to the effect we have on our coworkers, no matter who they are,” Sandra Degen added. “We now know without a doubt that we all have the ability to make a difference in the lives of everyone and anyone we come in contact with, and this makes us stronger as a team.”
Latrice Roberts is one of the interns currently gaining skills in Food Service. Though she is usually very shy, Latrice lights up and can’t stop talking about her internship at the end of every workday. She doesn’t complain about aching feet or exhaustion. Instead, she lists all the ways she helped her department thrive, and how she helps children through her work.
Food Service has been a vital part of Project SEARCH’s success at All Children’s, mentoring more than 20 interns since day one and hiring more graduates than any other department. Food Service has customized department jobs to create more skills for intern success, while simultaneously increasing productivity, boosting morale and removing stigma among those with disabilities.
“The Project SEARCH interns have really helped department morale,” says Joe Santoro, food services operations manager. “They have such a positive approach to work and are very welcoming. We are excited and honored to host interns every year.”
Currently, there are five Project SEARCH alumni currently working as hospital employees. They are excellent role models for this year’s interns, and a reminder that each of us have the power to make a difference.