BERLIN – Community members this week honored the first class of Project SEARCH interns with an end-of-year celebration at Atlantic General Hospital.
On Wednesday, families, community leaders and staff at Atlantic General Hospital (AGH) gathered to celebrate Worcester County’s first class of Project SEARCH interns. Project SEARCH is a national program created to help people with disabilities secure competitive employment.
Last year, the hospital, Worcester County Public Schools, the Worcester County Developmental Center and the Maryland State Department of Education Division of Rehabilitation Services partnered to bring the first Project SEARCH program to Worcester County.
Last fall, five local students in their final year of high school began internships at the hospital. And this week, the community came out to celebrate the four who completed the inaugural program.
The interns – Deshawn Collick, Bradley Dornes, Toni Dixon and Tyler Howard – spent six hours a day at the hospital, rotating through three different work experiences during the school year.
Onsite classroom training, focused on employability and life skills, was provided to interns by a teacher from Worcester County Public Schools, and job coaches from the Worcester County Developmental Center were available as needed.
“We have four students who were with us this past year who spent time learning how to interact with each other, learning how to interact in a way that’s helpful to each other and being part of a team …,” said Michael Franklin, the hospital’s president and CEO. “It’s been a big blessing for Atlantic General Hospital because it’s helped our team also to understand we are more than just taking care of sick people. We’re here for the community, and this is a great way of helping us give back to the community.”
Carol Beatty, secretary of the Maryland Department of Disabilities, thanked the partnering agencies for supporting the program and commended the interns, their families and hospital mentors for their efforts.
“This is a milestone because it is the inaugural class,” she told the interns. “All of the classes that come after you will look up to you because you are the pioneers. You blaze the trail.”
Superintendent Lou Taylor praised the partnering agencies for offering students with disabilities an opportunity to learn job skills.
“We feel these kids deserve as much of an opportunity, if not more, than all the kids that graduate from Worcester County Public Schools,” he said.
Through Project SEARCH, Taylor said the interns have learned to be productive members of the community.
“You need to ask three questions of kids when they go out into the public,” he said. “Ask them how well they represent themselves, how well they represent their families and how well they represent Worcester County Public Schools. And if you can get positive answers from those three things, we’ve done our jobs … Those four have done those three things.”
Delegate Wayne Hartman said Project SEARCH has been a learning lesson for both interns and hospital staff.
“Talking to those who were involved, it wasn’t about what the graduates have learned, but what those who have interacted with them have learned as well,” he said.
After being presented with superlative awards, each of the interns received certificates for completing the Project SEARCH program.
Dixon is now working at AGH as a patient safety aide. Howard and Dornes will extend their time with the hospital through a school-based work program, and Collick is currently in the middle of his job search.
Dixon said she is excited to continue working at Atlantic General. Through the program, she said she was able to assist patients and staff in the emergency and operating rooms.
“I got to see so many cool things,” she said.
Collick – who worked as a patient safety aide and completed rotations in food services and housekeeping – said his internship also taught him “how to care for others.”