Project SEARCH is Creating Meaningful Employment Opportunities by Connecting Students with Workplaces

By Deron Hamel

Esther Haan recalls how one of the students she works with through Project SEARCH was approached at Christmas by his mentor and co-worker in the housekeeping department at St. Joseph’s Lifecare Centre with a gift: a brand-new watch.

This was a special gift because the intern had never owned a watch and had told everyone he works with at the Brantford long-term care home that he would never use one.

But since that day, he’s not been seen without the watch he proudly wears.

It’s moments like this when Esther says she sees the strong value Project SEARCH, a dynamic training program that’s connecting students with disabilities to St. Joseph’s Lifecare Centre, has for both interns and their workplace mentors, who are called “champions”.

“It’s just amazing to see them dreaming and seeing that they’re going to become something special.”

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.

Interns work with skills trainers like Esther to hone their talents, chart their career paths and apply for jobs, once their three placements are done.

Esther says the things most exciting for her about Project SEARCH are watching the interns form bonds with workplace champions, seeing them learn new skills and helping them take those skills to the job market.

“From Sept. 6, when they walk through this door, to today, five months later, they’re saying, ‘I feel like an adult now, I have so many skills, I could live on my own someday, I can’t wait to see what job I’m going to get,’ ” Esther says.

“It’s just amazing to see them dreaming and seeing that they’re going to become something special.”

When Project SEARCH interns meet their career goals through their hard work, they’ve become their “best self,” Esther says.

Esther Haan

Esther Haan

Seeing their achievement is gratifying, she adds.

“And this is what I get to do here on a daily basis.”

Esther says the workplace champions are also thriving through the mentoring they provide interns.

While some may be at first apprehensive about working with interns because of the additional supports they may need, Esther says those concerns quickly evaporate when they see how eager the students are to learn new skills and do a good job.

In fact, one intern who was working in the recreation department enjoyed his placement so much at St. Joe’s he’s now volunteering at the home.

“He made relationships with people here, and he wanted to volunteer, so he talked to the manager and he’s volunteering now,” Esther says.

It’s these relationships that are, perhaps, the most valuable asset the Project SEARCH initiative garners for interns because they can lead to an intern getting a new job.

Or a new volunteer opportunity.Or even a new watch.

“The interns have become part of their teams,” Esther says. “They are included in everything.”

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


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