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Project SEARCH Program Trains Developmentally Disabled for Future Employment

A local hospital is helping to train young adults with developmental disabilities to be competitive in the workforce.

It's all part of the Project SEARCH High School Transition Program.

Lourdes Hospital in Binghamton teamed up with the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities, Catholic Charities, Broome-Tioga BOCES, and ACCES- Vocational Rehabilitation to become a business site for the program this year.

Since January, six Broome-Tioga students have been interning at the hospital.

Students begin their day in the classroom, learning useful tips like résumé building.

After class, they take on clinical rotation, with hands-on experience, in areas including material management, sterile processing, pharmacy, and food and nutrition.

"They are treated the same way as any other associate, they have the same expectations," said Melissa Osterhout, Project SEARCH instructor.

The program began in 1996 at Cincinnati's Childrens' Hospital. Sister Ellen Reilly, the hospital's Chief Mission Officer, brought it to Lourdes with the help of a $50,000 grant received from Mission and Ministries Inc., a part of her Daughters of Charity health ministry.

Reilly said the program has been shown to help those with disabilities in the past.

"Unemployment rates for them have been as high as 70% in most studies," said Reilly, "But Project SEARCH itself can flip that, and the employability can be 70%."

For her it's all about letting each intern know they have what it takes to succeed.

"These are young adults who are seeing that they can make a difference in the world by doing a job, and by being a part of society," said Sister Reilly, "And that they bring value."

The students will continue with the program until they graduate in June. And they say they won't graduate without learning one important lesson.

"Hard work pays off in the end," said Michael McClure, a Project SEARCH intern.

Organizers say a new group of at least eight people will start the program this fall. It will then become a full-year program.