A presentation was made to the Wallenpaupack School Board, August 20, about a new program to prepare young people with significant disabilities for success for competitive employment.

WALLENPAUPACK - A presentation was made to the Wallenpaupack School Board, August 20, about a new program to prepare young people with significant disabilities for success for competitive employment.

Project SEARCH is a nine month internship program for people with disabilities who have completed high school requirements and are at least 18 years old. It is designed for the last year of education. Project SEARCH targets individuals with complex needs who have a goal of competitive employment.

The presentation was made by Tanya Carelle, Director of Special Education and Dan Nalesnik, Assistant Director of Special Education.

In the works for two years, the internship program will launch for the 2018-2019 school year.

Wallenpaupack Area School District, Western Wayne School District and Wayne Highlands School District are all involved in this initiative, working with Wayne Memorial Hospital where the 10-week internships will take place. A variety of departments and opportunities within the hospital setting are being offered.

12 students in program

Wallenpaupack will be starting with three students this year. The program currently a capacity of 12 students, with the others coming from Wayne Highlands and Western Wayne.

A teacher from Wayne Highlands has been assigned to the program and the thee school districts will share the costs. The PA Department of Labor & Industry, Office of Vocational Rehabilitation (OVR) will also be providing a job coach.

Candidates were assessed for their proficiency to work, their ability to follow directions and their desire to work.

Prospective interns and their families attended an information night at the hospital.

In an interview with The News Eagle, Nalesnik said that the student intern’s entire day will be spent at Wayne Memorial. The students will start with classroom instruction in job and life skills, learning a variety of things from interview techniques to budgeting.

Beginning on Day One, Nalesnik noted, a job search is conducted to match the strengths of the individuals in the program.

Wayne Memorial Hospital is serving as the pilot host business or Project Search in the local community. In the future, other businesses could become available for internships.

It was noted that Project SEARCH does not replace current job shadowing opportunities and community outreach for students with disabilities.

Big need

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, the unemployment rate for person with a disability was 9.2 percent in 2017. This includes those without work, available to do the work and were actively seeking a job. This rate is more than twice the percentage for those without a disability.

Looking at it another way, 81.3 percent of all people in the U.S. having a disability are unemployed.

Quoting Steve Jobs, Nalesnik said, “We need to think differently” to address this statistic and improve on it locally.

Other stakeholders in Project SEARCH include the County of Wayne and Living Unlimited.

Students benefit

Nalesnik said that Project SEARCH brings an “immense benefit” to the region. The program, he said, gives interns a platform to show what the are capable of doing, an opportunity that has little existed before.

Student interns are expected to learn valuable employment skills that can transfer to other life aspects.

Students will participate in a variety of internships within the hospital.

Some of the benefits include attaining competitive, transferable and marketable job skills and gaining self-esteem, confidence and increased independence. They will have individualized coaching, instruction and feedback. The interns will be able to develop links to the OVR and other adult service agencies.

Businesses benefit

Benefits to the business include: Access to a new, diverse, talent stream with skills that match labor needs and gaining an intern/employee with disabilities who serve as a role model for patients.

People with disabilities represent one of the fastest growing market segments in the country.

Businesses can experience increased recognition through marketing of this unique program, as well as increased performance and retention in high-turnover, entry-level positions.

Melissa Regenski serves as Transition Coordinator at Wallenpaupack and has been instrumental at helping to develop Project SEARCH in this area, Nalesnik said. Project SEARCH began at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital and has grown to approximately 500 locations nationwide.

Nalesnik related that the program nationwide has been very successful, with an overall job placement of 75%.

“The willingness of Wayne Memorial to host the program is most appreciated,” said Superintendent Michael Silsby, when contacted later by The News Eagle. “They have been a wonderful partner.”

The next Wallenpaupack School Board meeting is set for Monday, September 10 at 6 p.m. in the High School Library. A committee meeting precedes it at 5:30 p.m.