By Adam Hocking
MARSHFIELD — Project SEARCH is defined as a one-year school-to-work program for young adults with disabilities, but it is also much more than that, according to Anne Dick, an instructor and coordinator of the program.
Project SEARCH follows the Marshfield School District calendar and puts participants into three internships throughout the year, many starting at Saint Joseph’s or Marshfield Clinic and then branching out further into the community. The program is international and began in 1996 in Cincinnati, Dick said. Marshfield’s Project SEARCH started in 2011.
The program is not solely a job-focused initiative. It also involves learning about life, personal responsibility, and the trials and tribulations of being self-sufficient. More than anything it gives young people confidence that they have the ability to stand on their own two feet.
“What becomes the most exciting for me is when you have the students who come into the program and they don’t have that self confidence, that self esteem. They haven’t figured out what they’re good at,” Dick said. “And so when I see them then start to be able to identify what those strengths are and realize that and their confidence starts to grow over the course of nine months, it just blows my mind.”
One such confident young man is Dane Golden, who has a multitude of duties working in the kitchen at Saint Joseph’s Hospital — the program’s classroom is inside of Saint Joseph’s — though his main passion is movies. Golden wants to review movies and potentially work at a movie store at some point. He would like to advise patrons looking for the perfect film.
“I love, love movies,” Golden said. “I like to do a lot of research on every one.” Golden went on to list some of his favorite performances by actors and actresses and how they prepared for those roles. His knowledge about films is encyclopedic, and Project SEARCH works to find an outlet for that. Golden may get the chance to work at Family Video for one of his internships.
Dick said there is no limit to where Project SEARCH graduates could end up working. Twenty-one of the 24 local students who have completed the program are now employed. Graduates work in a wide variety of fields like post anesthesia care, child care, and much more.
Dick is an employee of the School District of Marshfield, but many organizations play a role in making Project SEARCH successful.
“It’s a braided funding program,” Dick said. “We each pay our own piece of it.”
Saint Joseph’s Hospital supplies classroom space and many of the internships for students. Job coaches from Opportunity Development Center (ODC) internship training. The Division of Vocational Rehabilitation reimburses ODC “so that job coaches can provide the vocational training (for) the internships and job development,” Dick said.
A number of other state agencies also support the program, particularly for students who may have already graduated high school and are not eligible for district funding. Most students go through Project SEARCH after their senior year in high school by choosing not to officially graduate, thus staying eligible to have the district fund their placement.
“It’s no cost to the students whatsoever to be in this program,” Dick said.
When the students finish their internship duties for the day, they return to the classroom setting, where Dick works with them on a variety of skills like self-esteem building, creating résumés, positive thinking, conflict resolution, time management, taking initiative, and problem solving through group discussion.
Dick emphasized that every student’s path is different, and each has its own challenges. Project SEARCH works to accommodate each participant’s strengths and interests.
“I keep telling people, ‘You’re on your own path here. This is individualized to fit what you’re looking for,’” Dick said.
Dick was emotional as she spoke about the impact that Project SEARCH has on the lives of its participants.
“It’s life changing. It is life changing to be able to have something in your life that you feel good about, you feel confident about, that you have a purpose, that you’re connecting with other people, that you’re building relationships and networking,” Dick said. “When you come to graduation, (everyone is) teary-eyed because they have grown so much, and they are up there speaking and sharing their stories, and they know what they want to do, … and they’re so excited about it.”
“What a blessing for them to find a job and be excited, everybody has that right,” Dick said, her voice quavering as she spoke.
For more information on Project SEARCH, contact Anne Dick by email at email@example.com.