Project SEARCH grads ready to work at UMMC, in community
Published on Thursday, May 23, 2019
By: Ruth Cummins, email@example.com
Justin Eastwood can make a mean salad with boiled eggs, fresh spinach, blue cheese crumbles, spicy chicken and a plethora of other tasty toppings.
You can find him at the salad bar in the adult hospital cafeteria at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, holding court as one of the youngest retail employees. “I like the salad bar, and I like just working here, meeting new people and seeing a lot of people,” said Eastwood, 19, a Brandon High senior. “Some of them are my regulars.”
Eastwood is one of nine young adult interns who graduated May 17 from Project SEARCH, a national initiative designed to help students with disabilities obtain competitive, community-based employment skills. Begun at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 1996, Project SEARCH operates in more than 500 sites across the country and in a number of sites internationally.
Project SEARCH in August 2018 expanded to central Mississippi through a collaboration of the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services, UMMC and the Rankin County School District. The Mississippi Council for Developmental Disabilities also is providing assistance.
Dave Estorge, UMMC Health System chief of staff, said he wasn’t surprised by the “natural partnership” that formed between these organizations to make Project SEARCH happen.
“We are all on the same team, and we all want to change lives,” Estorge told the students, families and other attendees at the graduation.
The intent of the 10-month program is for interns to work in a business setting that will give them a teaching and learning experience, as well as the chance to gain skills that make them attractive to employers, including UMMC. In addition to Eastwood, the interns are Lauren Kenny, Wesley Tyson, John Edwards, Taton Wetzel, Joshua Wilson, Austin Sanders, Austin Tidwell and Quanterra Newsome.
“These graduates have been a gift to us,” Estorge said. “They are funny, loyal, hard-working, and light up the workplace every single day. And they are on time every day!”
Departments that stepped forward to host interns include Physical Facilities, Supply Chain, Shipping and Receiving, Printing, Ambassador Services, Respiratory Care, Patient Experience, Rehabilitation Services, Crown Laundry, Morrison Food Service and Crothall Environmental Health Services.
“It’s been a great success for our organization as a whole,” said Casey Bridges, category manager for supply chain management who’s coordinating Project SEARCH at UMMC. “It fits our culture and mission to provide these remarkable job skills to youths with disabilities. They’ve been a great addition to our workplace, and we’ve gained some valuable employees from the program.”
The Project SEARCH instructor at UMMC is Jennifer Jackson of the Rankin County School District. Six of the nine interns have been hired to work at UMMC after graduation, she said, and the remaining three will work in jobs in their community. “We’re so appreciative of the hospital for giving them this opportunity,” she said.
“Their experience helped them achieve the goal of competitive employment in the community, even if it’s not at UMMC,” she said of the intern cohort. “They had a great experience. They exceeded expectations of everyone so far as their performance on the job.”
Eastwood performed a rotation in Food Services lasts fall. “Then he went to another location, but he wanted to come back here because he enjoyed it so much,” said John Knowlton, retail manager for Morrison, UMMC’s vendor for food services.
“He’s got a great attitude. He’s infectious,” Knowlton said. “He’s been a bright spot for us. We’ve learned as much from him as he’s learned from us. He does a little bit of everything, but he’s migrated to the salad bar.”
Newsome has taken a job with Ambassador Services. “She is a breath of fresh air,” said Shayne Boackle, manager of Ambassador Service and an imaging services educator. “She always has a smile on her face, no matter how her day is going or how busy we are.”
If UMMC hadn’t embraced Project SEARCH, “the interns might not have had this opportunity,” Bridges said. In August, 11 students who either finished high school in May 2019 or who are currently seniors will begin the next Project SEARCH cohort.
“They should all be proud,” Bridges said. “From a human resources standpoint, it’s great to have new employees who love to come to work every day and who are excited about being part of the organization.”
And, Jackson said, UMMC and the interns aren’t the only ones who benefit.
“When I told Austin Tidwell’s mom that her child would have a job here, she cried,” Jackson said. “It means the world to their parents.”