In August 2018, several students from Fayette County high schools entered the inaugural Project SEARCH program, which was piloted at Piedmont Fayette Hospital. Project SEARCH’s primary focus is to secure competitive employment for students 18 to 21 years old with different learning abilities. While Piedmont Fayette is one of 600 programs across 45 states and nine countries hosting a Project SEARCH program, it is the first in Fayette County, and first in the Piedmont Healthcare system.
“There was a little uncertainty about how the program would work at Piedmont Fayette,” said Joseph Barrow, superintendent of Fayette County Schools. “However, we have such a strong, long-standing partnership with the hospital that we knew it had the potential to be amazing. And it was.”
The Project SEARCH program is a nine-month internship program, divided into three-month rotations in three different areas, allowing the students to explore different career paths. Students in the program acquired transferable job skills, while also learning how to fill out applications, compile a resume and interview for positions. The students rotated between Rehabilitation and Fitness, Dietary and Nutrition, Patient Access, and Medical/Surgical floors and quickly became members of the Piedmont Fayette team.
“The program’s success is due to the strong collaboration between our organizations and the team’s dedication to ensuring the students were provided the tools and experience they need be workforce ready,” said Debbie Britt, executive director of patient services at Piedmont Fayette and the Project SEARCH executive sponsor. “The ultimate reward of the program was the opportunity for our staff to work alongside these amazing students. I know they inspired every member of the team with their attitude, efforts, and smiles. They truly made a positive difference at Piedmont Fayette.”
Working through Project SEARCH Liaison and Piedmont Fayette Executive Services Associate, Jo Greene, the students were at the hospital Monday through Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. They had a 90-minute class each day with their instructor, Jenny Bellamy, and their skills trainer, Suzanne Hyer, in their own on-site classroom and spent the remainder of the day working with teams in different departments. Their duties ranged from delivering meals with the dietary team, to assisting patients and visitors with Patient Access or stocking materials for nurses or physical therapists.
“The program allowed the students to learn important job skills and get an idea of what they might like to do in the future, but the soft skills they learned were just as valuable, if not more so,” Bellamy said. “We had the pleasure of watching their self-confidence grow and watching them become better communicators. The culture of Piedmont Fayette played a huge role in that. Everyone was so supportive.”
In May, Piedmont Fayette hosted a graduation ceremony for the Project SEARCH students, who received a certificate for completing the program from Rosie Gwin, Director of Exceptional Children’s Services for Fayette County Schools, as well as their high school diplomas. The students spoke eloquently about what the program meant to them. Danielle Steinberg, who was hoping to find a job at Piedmont Fayette, stated that she was excited for her career to start, while Eden Cruz-Nieves, thanked the staff and volunteers for being like a second family to her. Jazmin Hernandez stated that she felt like a new person, capable of overcoming obstacles, and is now moving on the Medical Assistant program at Southern Crescent Technical College.
Project SEARCH will continue for a second year at Piedmont Fayette with more students and more departments where they can work.
“Our goal is to provide world-class opportunities for all of our students,” said Barrow. “We appreciate our partnership with Piedmont Fayette that allowed us to create an amazing experience for these students and the community.”
Pictured above from left: Project SEARCH instructor Jenny Bellamy, Danielle Steinberg, Project SEARCH skills instructor Suzanne Hyer, Jazmin Hernandez, Eden Cruz-Nieves and Project SEARCH Liaison and Piedmont Fayette Executive Services Associate Jo Greene