Project Search interns ready to roll at La Grange Memorial Hospital

Ten student interns with special needs are preparing for orientation sessions Aug. 25 and new roles at Adventist La Grange Memorial Hospital.

The interns will be piloting Project Search in Illinois, a program developed at a Cincinnati hospital to provide job training and placement tailored to students’ individual strengths and interests.

“We’re looking for some donations for classroom equipment,” said Karen Steffan, vocation program coordinator for the La Grange Area Department of Special Education cooperative, one of the Project Search sponsors.

“We’re hoping to get sponsorships for a Smartboard and some iPads,” Steffan said. “The task analysis, calendar and checklist are on iPads. Technology certainly allows for a lot of independence and freedom for our students, and we want to make sure we can use that to full capacity.”

Program participants have completed graduation requirements at west suburban high schools and are in their last year of eligibility for transitional services to develop independent living and vocational skills before their 23rd birthday.

Rather than continuing in classes at school, students selected as interns will spend their last year at the hospital as a job site from August to May, rotating through a variety of departments.

“They will be involved in admissions, patient transport, radiology, environmental services, food service, medical records, assisting patients with home help, materials management, security and volunteer services,” Steffan explained.

The special education cooperative has hired a teacher to coordinate the interns, who will meet for sessions in a classroom at the hospital in addition to the various departments. The program can accommodate two more students, Steffan said.

An interpreter also will be on site because several students are in programs for the deaf and hard of hearing.

“We were able to secure funding for those students who would age out during the year,” Steffan said. “What we didn’t want was a break in funding for a student turning 23 in November. In other programs, parents would need to pick up the tuition.”

The Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity’s Workforce Development program funded five students this year and helped pay for a part-time job coach from Helping Hand Rehabilitation Center in Countryside, another Project Search sponsor, she said.

“Adventist La Grange is a wonderful partner,” Steffan said. “We have quite a few departments on board, and the rest will be wondering how do they get an intern, too.”

Program coordinators are assessing students’ skill sets and interests to match them with the proper department program.

“What’s unique to this program is we are building on core skills to move them into readiness for job placement,” she said. “Some students may have basic skills and need more development of customer service skills.”

Steffan said she was excited to learn a second hospital is beginning a Project Search program. Central DuPage Hospital in Winfield will work with the School Association for Special Education in DuPage County, and other types of employers are making inquiries about Project Search, she said.

Special education officials reported that while unemployment was at 7 percent in 2013 for the general population, it soared as high as 70 percent for adults with special needs.

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