Project SEARCH Turns Disability into Ability

By: Taylor Andres

UPMC Project Search Graduations

UPMC Project SEARCH is a one-year program, in partnership with Goodwill of Southwestern Pennsylvania, that educates and trains high school students with disabilities with the aim of acquiring key skills that can lead to employment. Four UPMC hospitals participate in the program – UPMC Hamot, UPMC Passavant, UPMC Mercy and UPMC Jameson.

“This program is extremely important to the special needs community because these students have so much to offer,” said Carol Hirsch, a Project SEARCH instructor at UPMC Hamot. “Sometimes people get caught up in the disability and don’t see the ability, and once they start working, their confidence grows, and they become capable of doing great things.”

At UPMC, students are immersed in the workplace and receive hands-on training while working alongside hospital care team members and connecting with UPMC managers through classroom-style instruction and rotations.

“When they leave the program, they have actual tangible life and career skills that will help them in their new jobs,” said Jason Hogan, director of environmental services at UPMC Mercy.

The program teaches students appropriate workplace etiquette and codes of conduct as well as specific, job readiness and interviewing skills. Participants gain meaningful work experience while developing marketable skills, becoming more independent and building confidence and self-esteem.

“The transformation with the students is awesome,” said Mary Adams, retail manager at UPMC Passavant. “They come in and they’re nervous, they’re scared, and by the time they leave, they’re everyone’s friends and everyone misses them. If they’re not here a day, everyone’s asking where they are because they make such a difference in our department.”

To be eligible for this program, students must be between the ages of 18 and 21 and willing to work 20 hours a week. This year, UPMC celebrated the graduation of 23 students.

Project SEARCH operates on a school year schedule. For more information about applications and getting involved with Project SEARCH, contact Anthony Stough at