Mentor says Project SEARCH Program is Fostering Interns’ Personal and Professional Growth

By Deron Hamel

Reflecting on her time mentoring students involved with the Project SEARCH initiative, Audrey Bekendam says what stands out most for her is the personal and professional growth she’s seen the interns experience.

Troy Slaght with the cleaning cart folding clothes.

Troy Slaght with the cleaning cart folding clothes.

Audrey, who works in the housekeeping department at St. Joseph’s Lifecare Centre, says that while some of the interns were initially shy and withdrawn around residents and staff members at the Brantford long-term care home, it didn’t take long for them to acclimatize to life at St. Joe’s and get into the groove.

“It has been very eye opening; (it’s like watching) a flower developing,” Audrey says.

“The first fellow (I mentored) was very timid; he didn’t talk a lot. But then one day we came in here for lunch, and as soon as that door shut, boom, did he ever open up. And from then on, he took each new task and then did it very well (and) didn’t need a lot of direction.”

Project SEARCH is a dynamic training program that’s connecting student interns who have disabilities to St. Joseph’s Lifecare Centre. Through the program, the interns learn job skills from workplace mentors who are called “champions”.

Broden Carpenter filling the floor cleaning machine.

Broden Carpenter filling the floor cleaning machine.

A three-way partnership between Community Living Brant, St. Joe’s and Grand Erie District School Board, Project SEARCH pairs students aged 18 to 21 with three different co-op experiences that utilize in-demand roles and provides them with more than 700 training hours to help them learn new skills and prepare for the job market.

In addition to the growth and increased confidence she has seen from the interns she has mentored, the students are providing valuable support to the staff at St. Joe’s, Audrey says.

Infection prevention measures have been ramped up at the home since the COVID-19 pandemic began, and much of the work undertaken by the intern Audrey is currently working with involves cleaning and sanitizing high-touch areas to help keep everyone safe.

In addition to doing an excellent job and learning to quickly master his duties, the intern Audrey is working with is also proving to be a natural at engaging the residents of St. Joe’s.

Darian Matthews folding the laundry.

Darian Matthews folding the laundry.

While the intern was initially shy, it wasn’t long before he started chatting with the residents, saying hello to them and asking how they were doing, and from there his confidence accelerated, Audrey says.

“He opened up, and you could just see his development every day,” she says.

Given the growth the interns are experiencing, along with the support they’re providing to St. Joe’s residents and staff, Audrey says she thinks Project SEARCH has promise for the future at the home.

And her co-workers are also happy to have the program at St. Joe’s, Audrey says.

“They’re loving it; they’re just enthusiastic as I am.”

Lead photo caption: Project SEARCH mentor Audrey Bekendam.

— This story is Part 3 of a three-part series on the Project SEARCH program. Read part 1 here. Read part 2 here.


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