Project SEARCH Program Connects Students with Disabilities to Job Opportunities
High school students with disabilities shared insights on benefits of job skills training program
High school seniors who participated in a Bergen County job skills training program called Project SEARCH held a joint press conference with Holy Name Medical Center and Bergen County officials to discuss how the program has positively impacted participants and businesses in the community.
This program allows students with disabilities to spend their last year of high school working in various departments in the hospital, exploring career options, and developing transferable job skills. This year, students worked in various departments at Holy Name, including nursing, pediatrics, environmental services, patient and family relations, maintenance and food services, among others.
"This program allows students with disabilities to explore their talents, identify their unique skills, and apply them in a workplace environment," said Tammy Molinelli, Executive Director, Bergen County Workforce Development. "That's what Project SEARCH is all about – giving students the opportunity to develop job skills and transition successfully from a school environment to the workforce."
Project SEARCH is a collaborative partnership between business, education, workforce and government agencies, vocational rehabilitation, community rehabilitation providers, long-term support agencies and families. Holy Name is one of only two hospitals in Bergen County to partner with the county on the initiative, now in its second year.
"This marks our second year of participation in the Project SEARCH program," said Michael Maron, president and CEO at Holy Name. "It has been our privilege to work once again with County Executive James Tedesco, the Freeholders led by Tracy Zur, the New Jersey Department of Labor & Workforce Development, Bergen County Special Services, and the young adults who have spent the better part of a year integrated among our health care team. We are proud to have played a role in developing the skills of these talented and ambitious students. I have no doubt they will be successful as they pursue their career goals."
"We are so proud of the remarkable young people who have participated in Project SEARCH in Bergen County over the past two years," said James Tedesco III, Bergen County Executive. "With the support of our outstanding partners, these differently-abled students have learned skills and gained experience that will serve them well as they enter the workforce. These talented, highly-motivated young women and men will be welcome additions in any Bergen County workplace."
Students also shared insights on their involvement in this program.
Adam Jeetoo, a Ridgefield Park High School student, will work in Holy Name's food services department when he graduates from the program in June.
"I achieved my goal of working at Holy Name in food services," said Adam Jeetoo, Project SEARCH program participant. "I want to work my way up in the kitchen, from prep, to cook, to chef. You have to work hard to prove yourself, and be efficient to earn it."
Elizabeth Gongora participated in the program at Holy Name in its inaugural year and is now approaching her one year anniversary as a full time employee with the medical center.
"It was a very rewarding experience and I recommend it to any students who have developmental disabilities," said Elizabeth Gongora, help desk coordinator at Holy Name Medical Center. "No matter how hard it gets, pick yourself up and keep going. Don't give up. Even if someone says you can't do something, you won't know unless you try."
"Today these young people underscored the amazing abilities that the differently-abled bring to the workforce. Our first year placed 90% of the students who participated in meaningful, sustainable employment. This program not only successfully imparts portable job skills, but it gives graduates input into their futures," said Freeholder Tracy Silna Zur.