GREENVILLE, N.C. – Project SEARCH, an educational program offered at ECU Health Medical Center, is proud to announce 11 students graduated from the program on Tuesday.
The graduates were Caleb Askew, Ke’Shaun Brown, Isabella Davis, Shilah Gibbs, Johnathan Guadalupe, Ebony Hyman, Gwenisha Mosley, Kymecia Pugh, Kimiko “AJ” Roberson, Jai Sadler and Jose Vargas.
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 to bring educational opportunities to everyone in the East,” said Doris Hill, Project SEARCH coordinator at ECU Health. “This program gives students the opportunity to learn job skills that can be applied after graduation and brings diversity to our organization and the local workforce. We are proud of the tremendous growth of our 11 graduates throughout the program, and we are all very proud of their accomplishments.”
The Project SEARCH program at ECU Health Medical Center began in 2015 through partnerships with Pitt County Schools, RHA Health Services and the 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 SurgiCenter, main medical center cafeteria, endoscopy center, grounds, environmental services and the neuroscience intermediate unit.
“Project SEARCH gives our students support to transition into the workforce through skills development and a customized job search in the second half of the program,” said Katie Houmard, Project SEARCH instructor. “This program grows the confidence and independence in all of our students, and many of our graduates have gained competitive employment in our community. I am so proud of all of our students and am excited to see them continue to grow and become employed.”
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 Project SEARCH program has proven results with a 65 percent employment and 90 percent retention rate nationally.
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 2023 is the eighth, and largest, class to graduate from the program. The students this year were the first class to receive CPR training and certification while in the program.
“Project SEARCH has allowed our son to gain independence,” said Doug and Laura Askew, parents of graduate Caleb Askew. “He wakes up, brushes his teeth, gets dressed and waits for the school bus by himself, which he has never done. I have never seen him this excited to go to school or work. He loves Project SEARCH.”
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.