GREENVILLE, N.C. – Project SEARCH, an educational program offered at ECU Health Medical Center (ECUHMC), is proud to announce eight students recently graduated from the program.

Those students are Shaima Bader, Emonni Cannonier, Phabian Chen, Nydarious Johnson, Adrian Lewis, Andre Lewis, Marvin Sanderson and Isaac Soderstrom. Project SEARCH is a one-year internship program for students with developmental and intellectual disabilities in their last year of high school with the goal of providing real-world practical skills and increasing the chances of competitive employment.

“ECU Health is very proud to host Project SEARCH,” said Lisa Lassiter, director of workforce development at ECU Health. “This program offers opportunities for students to learn job tasks and skills, connects us to the communities we serve and brings diversity to our organization and the local workforce. These eight graduates have grown tremendously throughout the program, and we are all very proud of their accomplishments.”

The Project SEARCH program at ECUHMC began in 2015 through partnerships with Pitt County Schools, RHA Health Services and North Carolina Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services. Students complete internships in various departments at the hospital, including Central Services, East Carolina Heart Institute Cafeteria, the Main Cafeteria, Endoscopy Center, Grounds, Environmental Services and the Neuroscience Intermediate Unit.

The employment rate for youth with disabilities is about 60 to 70 percent less than youth without disabilities, according to the Office of Disability Employment Policy. The development initiative has proven results with a 65 percent employment and 90 percent retention rate.

“Project SEARCH gives us an opportunity to help students transition into the workforce through employment, skills development and a customized job search in the second half of the program,” said Katie Houmard, Project SEARCH instructor. “Many of our graduates have gained competitive employment in our community upon completing the program. These students have a bright future ahead, and I am excited to see them continue to grow and become employed.”

Students who participate in the program are enrolled at various Pitt County high schools including J.H. Rose, D.H. Conley, South Central, Farmville Central, North Pitt and Ayden-Grifton. The class of 2022 is the seventh class to graduate from the program.

“Project SEARCH helps me find a job and a future to be successful,” said Bader, one of the Project SEARCH students.

The Project SEARCH program began in 1996 at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center (CCHMC) and was developed as a means to meet entry-level employment needs at CCHMC, support their diversity initiative and partner with schools and community services agencies. Project SEARCH is now an international program with over 400 sites in existence now in at least 45 states and with programs in England, Scotland, Ireland and Canada.