Students with disabilities gain skills through Project SEARCH

Published 8:27 am Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Seven interns will be the first cohort of students to participate in the yearlong immersive program, Project SEARCH which seeks to train those with disabilities to have a variety of career, and self care skills.
The students will be meeting with members of the media to show off their new skill sets at 11 a.m. Nov. 22 in the community room at Lakeland Medical Center, 1234 Napier Ave., St. Joseph.
Project SEARCH is a new school-to-work transition opportunity for students with disabilities in Berrien County. While the program itself has existed since 1996, Lakeland Health is the area’s first location to host the internship experience.
Project SEARCH is coordinated by Berrien RESA hosted at Lakeland and is supported by the Bureau of Services for Blind Persons, Disability Network, Riverwood Center and Michigan Rehabilitation Services. Together, these agencies have created a one-year immersion experience that combines classroom instruction, career exploration and hands-on training through worksite rotations.
The goal for each student intern upon completion of the program is competitive employment. Project SEARCH provides real-life work experience combined with training in employability and independent living skills to help young adults with significant disabilities make a successful transition from school to productive adult life.
The Project SEARCH model involves an extensive period of training and career exploration, innovation adaptations, long-term job coaching and continuous feedback from teachers, job coaches and employers. As a result, at the completion of the training program, student interns with significant intellectual disabilities can become employed in nontraditional, complex and rewarding jobs.
Student interns apply to be a part of the program during their previous school year. They must pass a skills assessment evaluation and be interviewed as part of the acceptance process. Once accepted into the Program, student interns report to Lakeland Medical Center, St. Joseph instead of their home school district classroom for the entire school year.
Student interns rotate through a number of jobsite rotations. They have the opportunity to work in the general stores, Volunteer Services (Courtyard Café), central processing, the emergency department, environmental services, Nutrition Services and Patient Transport/Resource Center. The Project SEARCH program serves as the student interns’ capstone educational experience and often leads to employment once the internships are complete.
The average Project SEARCH program accepts seven to 11 student interns annually.
Student with disabilities who are interested in becoming a student intern through Project SEARCH should contact their special education teacher or their school district’s special education coordinator to obtain application information. For additional program information, visit