SEARCH-ing for the perfect job – and landing it
Published on Monday, May 23, 2022
By: Ruth Cummins, firstname.lastname@example.org
When Coleman Canard was learning the ropes as an intern in the University of Mississippi Medical Center’s Shipping and Receiving department, he got to know his coworkers – and they got to know him.
Take, for example, Stafford Collier, one of the department’s managers. “I pranked him with a spider on Halloween,” recollected Canard, a Ridgeland High student who will parlay his newfound job skills into a position with Holmes Community College, working in housekeeping and maintenance.
Canard and two other teens on May 20 marked the end of their final year in high school by graduating from Project SEARCH, a nine-month program that gives teens and young adults with intellectual disabilities the chance to learn job and life skills that will lead to self-sufficiency.
UMMC is one of a handful of sites in the state that host Project SEARCH, a national initiative designed to help students with disabilities obtain competitive, community-based employment. The Medical Center partners with the Rankin County School District and the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services to give metro-area students hands-on training.
Begun at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in 1996, Project SEARCH operates in more than 600 sites across the country and internationally. It’s designed primarily for students who have either just finished high school, or just entering their final year.
Joining Canard as UMMC’s graduating interns for the 2020-21 school year are Niel McMillan of Pearl High and Donna Bonnin-Behan, who completed the Rankin County district’s vocational training program.
“What made this class so special was the variety of personalities,” said Christina Guarino, the Rankin County School District teacher assigned to Project SEARCH. “It was a dynamic group where each intern brought something unique to the table.
“They grew professionally together. They kept each other in check and accountable.”
The interns rotated through corners of UMMC that include Ambassador Services, Patient Equipment, Supply Chain, Shipping and Receiving, Food Services, Environmental Services, and Volunteer Services in the Office of Patient Experience. This year’s program brought a partial return to the ability to circulate in patient care areas, something put on hold during the past two school years due to COVID-19.
“We had some challenges, but as COVID wound down, we were able to offer up some more service areas,” said Ryan McMillan, UMMC support services administrator and liaison for Project SEARCH.
“These three have been amazing so far as their work ethic and attitude,” he said of the interns. “It’s been an honor to be a part of this.”
But also key to interns’ job prospects is time spent in a UMMC classroom with Guarino, learning employability and independent living skills, teamwork, financial literacy, health and wellness, technology, self-advocacy, and how to prepare for and maintain equipment.
Although the goal of Project SEARCH is for interns to gain employment upon graduation, that didn’t happen for Niel McMillan. UMMC’s Ambassador Services snapped him up in December, just halfway through his internship, although he very much continued in the program.
“You all put in a lot of hard work,” Brenden Ireland, an Ambassador Services supervisor, told the interns at their graduation. “Interns bring a light to the department that is much needed. It can be tough from time to time working here, and they’ve made my job better and the environment here better.
“It’s been nice to see them flourish, both as employees and individuals.”
Canard spent a lot of time on his feet in Shipping and Receiving and in Patient Equipment, helping to make sure UMMC departments had the materials and supplies needed to make their work area hum. “Basically, I was UPS,” he said.
And Bonnin-Behan, who’s headed to a full-time position in the cafeteria at Oakdale Elementary in the Rankin County district, recorded perfect attendance as she completed her rotations, with Volunteer Services being one of her favorites.
“I got to learn my way around the hospital,” said Bonnin-Behan, who created an Excel spreadsheet to track Volunteer Services’ distribution of clothing and hygiene products to patients in need. “They treated me like one of their own – like one of the team.”
Look in UMMC’s employee directory, and you’ll see Niel McMillan’s name right under that of Ryan McMillan. Their relationship is not by blood or marriage, but as coworkers.
“All the people there are kind,” Niel said of why he likes working in Ambassador Services. “They take the time to make sure that I learn.”
Niel’s grandmother, Angelita Figueroa, was among the family members cheering him on at graduation. His abuela speaks little English and Niel is her interpreter, but her emotions and big smile don’t need deciphering.
“I’m so happy for the progress he’s made. I’m so proud he was able to graduate today,” she said.