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Breaking Ground 90 - Project SEARCH at Progress

by Lily Wojcik, PR/Events Manager, Progress, Inc.
three African American people, co-workers, with arms around each other. They are all wearing blue hospital scrubs. They are, left to right, Raykeyda, Ronand Ms. Z.
Ron with coworkers Raykeyda and Ms. Z

Project SEARCH is an internship program for youth and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities that affects lives far beyond the walls of a particular hospital, office or hotel Project SEARCH site. The program is well known amongst employment providers worldwide as a “door opener” to a lifetime of work opportunities for individuals with disabilities; one that fills the gap and gives participants an opportunity to “try on” various roles within a field before launching into what can sometimes be an otherwise intimidating or uncertain work environment. Interns come from a wide range of unique backgrounds, families and living situations, but they all have several things in common: a desire to explore work, learn new skills and secure a future built on their own terms. Most participants are employment-ready at the close of the 9-month internship, having benefited from a strong network of people committed to their success.

The Project SEARCH sites of Progress, a disability service provider in Nashville, offer this same platform for success for all participants. Interns embark on an unfamiliar journey each fall at community businesses, and by spring they are ready to take on the world.

Rontravius (Ron) Hayes is a recent graduate of the Project SEARCH site at Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt, where he is now employed as a Perioperative Support Tech. His job duties include transporting case carts from the OR (Operating Room) to either Sterile Processing or to the loading dock where they are taken to an off-site facility to be cleaned.

Ron originally heard of Project SEARCH from Pam Hollingsworth, Employment Co-Director of Progress. “I met Ron several times before, both at school and at employment presentations, and each time he expressed his desire to work,” Pam said. “When he heard about Project SEARCH he was really excited about it.”

Ron graduated from high school in May of 2016, and that August he started with the intern class of 2017 at Monroe Carell. Ron was the first of his class to be employed, landing a job after only his second rotation, which was long before the end of the program. Dana Klebs, Job Coach at Project SEARCH at Monroe Carell, emphasized what a stand-out guy Ron was from the start.

“Right away Ron made connections on his own; he came in with a desire to work and wasn’t going to stop until he achieved his goal.”

Ron understood that if he could get through the internship, he could get a job on his own, and if he could get a job on his own, then his future was limitless.

Project SEARCH aims for high rates of employment for all participants, ensuring each person is well versed in a wide array of skills needed for the future. Typical rotations of the program include environmental services, guest services and nutrition services. Interns also spend time in a classroom learning additional life skills that will help them on a path to successful employment. One hundred percent of the most recent graduating intern class at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital has secured employment.

Although Ron had been through difficult events in his life, he gained not only a confidence in his abilities, but also a team of mentors who continue to aid his personal and professional growth.

“He came to the program with everything stacked against him, but his whole demeanor and life has changed as a result of Project SEARCH,” said Dana.

When asked what he liked most about his job, Ron was quick to reply that his favorite thing is making his own money. “I never had a job before, this was my first job,” he said. “It has been a learning experience.”

Ron found a job he loves through hard work and dedication during his internship with Project SEARCH. He speaks highly of the people who helped him get to this place. When asked what he would say to the people who’ve been part of this experience, he replied, “It has been a long journey, but I would thank them for the opportunity and the connection to the people at Project SEARCH.”

Progress currently offers two Project SEARCH locations in Middle Tennessee: Monroe Carell Jr. Children’s Hospital at Vanderbilt and Embassy Suites Nashville. A new program at Amerigroup Nashville will launch in the fall of 2017.

For information about any of these programs, please contact Pam Hollingsworth, Co-Director of Employment Programs of Progress, at 615.477.9287. 

Project SEARCH Vanderbilt Intern Class 2017. This is a diverse group of young people, all in dark blue uniforms. They are posing on a curved stone wall.
Project SEARCH Vanderbilt Intern Class 2017.