By Morgan Pilz, Staff Writer
(Aug. 23, 2018) Project SEARCH has been established at Atlantic General Hospital in Berlin for students with disabilities to receive job experience while completing high school courses.
Project SEARCH is a high school transition program, with more than 500 locations in the U.S. and in 10 countries, whose primary objective is to secure competitive employment for individuals with developmental disabilities. Worcester is the first county on the Eastern Shore to adopt this program.
“It makes a big difference in the community and it helps the organizations and the businesses have a sense of pride and it creates people who are a future workforce,” Michael Franklin, president and CEO of Atlantic General Hospital, said. “It’s really helpful to all of us.”
The SEARCH Program on the Eastern Shore is a partnership between Atlantic General Hospital, the Worcester County Board of Education, Worcester County Developmental Center and the Maryland Department of Education’s Division of Rehabilitation Services.
“This is an exciting day for all of us in this room, especially for me as superintendent of schools as we celebrate the first ever project SEARCH,” said Louis Taylor, superintendent of Worcester County Public Schools, during the SEARCH meet-and-greet last Thursday at Atlantic General Hospital. “It is our responsibility to prepare our kids for life beyond the walls of learning in our 14 institutions of learning. This is one of those steps as we move forward.”
In September, the first class of Project SEARCH interns will begin their year of on-the-job training at Atlantic General Hospital.
The interns will spend six hours per day at the hospital, rotating through three different work experiences during the school year. Onsite classroom training will focus on employability and life skills provided by a teacher from Worcester County Public Schools.
“One of our biggest goals is to ensure [our disabled students] have employment after school,” Transition Coordinator Matthew Elburn said. “We know that having a job while in school predicts successful employment after school. We’re always looking for new avenues for our students who are [ages] 18-21.
“This is nice because it’s set in the community. Students don’t go to school, they’ll come here and take a class on job skills and interpersonal skills,” he continued. “After that hour, they’ll go around into the different job rotations in the hospital.”
Four of the five interns met with hospital staff and local officials for a kickoff celebration of the program on Thursday, Aug. 16, along with Taylor and Carol Beatty, secretary, Maryland Department of Disabilities.
“I am really so excited to be here to help you celebrate this wondrous event,” Beatty said. “This year is going to be full of interesting things that you’re going to be learning here and partnerships that are going to be developing and ultimately wonderful opportunity when you interns graduate.”
The interns are excited to begin the program this September.
“I wanted to join because it’s fun,” said Intern Bradley Dornes of Berlin. “I want to learn about lots of jobs”
“It’s something different for us,” said Intern Tyneish Gustus of Pocomoke. “We [disabled] kids don’t get a lot of opportunities.”
This program was especially personal for Franklin, who has an older brother, Steve, with a disability. Franklin read an article about Steve to the audience regarding his work ethic and love of helping others.
“The importance of us spreading this around the community is to find what people are good at and find what they love to do, and until you try you don’t know,” Franklin said. “Thank you all for giving us this opportunity.”
For more information about Project SEARCH, visit www.projectsearch.us.