SEARCHing for Success

Lakeland Regional Health has partnered with the Polk County Public Schools, Center for Independent Living in Central Florida, Inc., Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, and the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council to pilot an internship program for students with disabilities ages 18-22 years old.

Project SEARCH at Lakeland Regional Health has opened the first site in Polk County and is already finding success with student interns learning job related skills in over 12 departments. Students gain valuable skills aimed at entry level positions with supports and accommodations provided as needed. All interns will participate in three, ten week rotations in order to acquire marketable and transferable skills for obtaining competitive employment. Through these targeted internships, students gain skills that will enable them to apply for a similar position at the hospital or in the community. Each day of internship mirrors a regular school day balanced between practical job experience and classroom.

Project SEARCH at Lakeland Regional Health seeks to complement other statewide initiatives, such as the Florida Unique Abilities Partnership launched by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity in late 2016. It operates on the philosophy that people with disabilities have the right to choose a path toward education and employment. However, opportunities for young people with disabilities to gain experience are often limited. The opportunities created through Project SEARCH will help prepare the students of today with the experience they need to succeed in the jobs of tomorrow. The jobs Project SEARCH prepares students for are complex and systematic jobs that are not easy but maintain a component of routine.

This collaborative effort between Lakeland Regional Health, Polk County Public Schools, the Center for Independent Living in Central Florida, Inc, Vocational Rehabilitation, and the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council will provide an evidence-based program for transitioning students with disabilities from school to work. This partnership with Lakeland Regional Health and Project SEARCH will help shape a brighter future for participating students, while inspiring other businesses to get involved in this successful model.

Project SEARCH partners always include an educational institution, Vocational Rehabilitation, a supported employment agency, a developmental disability group, the student’s family, other advocacy organizations, and a host business. The Project SEARCH program follows the school year and includes between 10 to 12 students with a variety of intellectual and developmental disabilities.

To be eligible to participate, students must have graduated high school or must choose to defer graduation in a desire to become employed. Eligible students are referred to the program by their school or Vocational Counselor and need to apply by spring of the prior year for entry into the program. All applicants will participate in a selection process conducted by a team of representatives from all Project SEARCH partners.

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