Project SEARCH is a one academic year, total workplace immersion vocational training program that helps individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities learn the necessary job skills to become competitively employed. Interns do several rotations in various med center sites.
"Up through this year, we are at 100 percent employment post-graduation," said Ian Froemming, MMI employment services liaison.
The Munroe-Meyer Institute, as a University Center for Excellence for Developmental Disabilities Education, Research, and Service (UCEDD), is the project manager, and the three main partners outside of UNMC, who provide the internship sites, are Nebraska Medicine, Sodexo and Cardinal Health, Froemming said.
The Madonna School provides post-graduation job coaching, which allows for continuity of service throughout the employment and creates strong relationships between the job coaches and clients, Froemming said.
"Our success in the program is due to the continuing supports that we are able to provide post-graduation for our clients," Froemming said. "That's what makes our site a little different. With the UCEDD's backing, we are able to provide parent-resource navigation as far as that transition from in-school services to adult services.
"Our goal is to make that transition a little smoother and set our interns up for success, as opposed to scrambling and trying to fix a problem once it's already there."
Froemming praised the dedication of the staff to the clients.
"Our staff is always constantly looking for networking opportunities and business to connect with. Last year, NP Dodge hired one of our graduates, and it's worked out really well for both parties, so they are looking to grow that relationship even more.
"Ideally, every year we would bring on a new business partner who buys into the philosophy that individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities can and should be employed, and that they can be your most reliable workers."
The med center's Project SEARCH program accepts both adults and transition-age (18-25) interns.
Brittney, a 28-year-old intern, has volunteering experience, but she is hoping to get a job working with children or babies through Project SEARCH, and is interested in the internship with Nebraska Medicine's NICU.
"I'd like to make a little money and be independent," she said.
"A hesitancy we had in the beginning was that the class wouldn't see themselves as peers, that a 56-year-old individual would not identify with a 20-year-old," Froemming said. "We've found that's not the case at all. The older individuals who go through our program understand what's beyond transition if you don't get employed, so they've been extremely good role models.
"They are seeing it as their last opportunity to pursue competitive employment, and they're telling our transition kids that this is an opportunity they did not have at their age -- it's actually been beneficial to our site."