For the first time, ProHealth Care has teamed up with Project SEARCH, a collaborative effort between Easter Seals of Southeast Wisconsin, the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and Children's Hospital of Wisconsin to provide job skills for cognitively disabled young adults.
After kicking off in September, the interns at Waukesha Memorial Hospital are starting to settle in to their internships. While the interns are there to learn, the program has revealed the newmstudents may also be the teachers.
Project SEARCH is another option for transition planning for young adults with disabilities that is intended to teach them marketable, transferable and competitive skills with the end goal of finding employment.
CindySue Nielsen who coordinates the interns at ProHealth said that her goal is to make sure interns walk away understanding those skills and also dynamics in the workplace.
"We hope they learn confidence, job skills but also soft skills like being accountable, being on time, being flexible," Nielsen said. "Those are the things we take for granted."
The interns started with a three-week classroom period where they learned a little about each department then worked to select their top choices. Each intern will complete three 10-week rotations in three different departments within the hospital. There will be one week in between for the interns to update their resumes and skills, and transition into their next department. The interns will graduate from the program in June.
"Everyone 10 weeks they get a completely new job. If that were anybody else it would still be a hard adjustment," Nielsen said. "But the groups have always been extremely positive. There are no frumpy grumpies running around, they are just excited to get to know more people."
Participants must apply and interview for Project SEARCH. The interns also interview with the hospital and then again for each department they rotate to. Nielsen said it's great practice for everyone involved.
An average day
The interns arrive around 8 a.m. and have an hour of classroom time before their shift. They then work a full day in their department taking breaks and lunches with co-workers and return to the classroom at the end of the day for an educational debrief.
"They are always very excited to share what they've learned," Nielsen said. "We also have them journal so you can already see them learning and their growth. From what side of the hallway you walk on, going in and out of an elevator with a cart we really do take for granted the skills we just pick up in life that we've been teaching."
With 12 interns in 12 different departments, it's easy to see how each day could drastically differ after that. Deb Peterson took on two interns, one in receiving and one in distribution.
"We found it to be a blessing for our department. Health care has had a lot of change so (the employees) grumble about it. But having these interns removes them from what they aren't happy about and puts them in a place of being helpful to someone and having a new purpose in their job," Peterson said. "What I think my employees get out of it is a new point of view at how important their job really is and how excited someone can be about a job without even getting paid for it."
Brianna Powers, 21, is a graduate of Waukesha North High School and a resident of Elm Grove. She said she enjoys delivering items around the hospital and is rather independent in the work room as she picks orders, always with a smile. Quiet in nature, Powers takes a little prompting but explains she has learned to be professional and be a team player in her internship so far. Her ultimate goal is to work in a hospital in a similar position she is in now.
Tom Piek, one of those supervisors, walks quickly by Powers but stops to say, "She just brightens up your day and is a breath of fresh air. She's a very nice addition to our team."
Sidney Williams, 23, is a graduate of Menomonee Falls High School. A friend's family mentioned Project SEARCH to his mom and he signed up. Williams, who requires assistance to complete tasks and has a heavy stutter, got paired with volunteer Terry Schroeder who has been a distribution technician for 16 years at ProHealth Care.
Williams said he has learned to use a pallet jack and where numbers go within the warehouse. Schroeder said he has learned patience and to pay closer attention to work that has become habit over the years. He said that Williams also helps him have a lot of fun.
"What's great for Sidney is before this program he wasn't able to get interviews or work and was just sitting idle. The opportunity to work and feel you are a vital part of the community is just so essential."
Students are teachers
Both Peterson and Nielsen agree that watching the interns leave in just a few short weeks to move onto their next rotation will be hard on them. They've made friends and gotten used to being around each other.
"It will be hard. I can't see it going any other way. Not just for the interns, but also for the staff. They keep our spirits up," Peterson said. "They are also teaching us."
Nielsen tagged on saying "My favorite saying is from Buddha. 'When the student is ready, the teacher will appear.' You never know who is going to teach who what."
Perhaps most telling however was when Williams said, "Terry's just hardworking, he makes me laugh."
And without skipping a beat Schroeder pats Williams on the back
"No," Schroeder said with a smile. "We make each other laugh."
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