Project SEARCH Celebrates Launch, Rochester Expansion

Program Helps Young Adults with Developmental Disabilities Transition to Work World

November 20, 2009

Yauneek Wallace, Project SEARCH student, helps patients in Wilmot Cancer Center's Treatment Center.

John Dasfais wants a job. The 21-year-old Spencerport student, who has a developmental disability, wants to earn a paycheck and, hopefully, move out on his own. And he’s on the road to doing that through a new program called Project SEARCH at the University of Rochester Medical Center (URMC).

A partnership among several local agencies brought Rochester its first Project SEARCH, a program that helps young adults with developmental disabilities transition to the work world by giving them hands-on experience. Coordinated by the Institute for Innovative Transition at Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities, which is funded by a grant from the Golisano Foundation, the program began in August with the help of Monroe 2-Orleans BOCES, The Arc of Monroe County and New York State’s Vocational and Educational Services for Individuals With Disabilities (VESID).

A dozen 18- to 21-year-olds, including Dasfais, are in internships around the Medical Center, learning skills in office, clinical and customer service settings. And next fall, the program will expand to incorporate 12 more students from the Rochester City School District who will have internships in the City of Rochester government. Project SEARCH held a celebration of the launch and expansion of the program at the Wilmot Cancer Center today.

“The students are only a few months into their Project SEARCH experience, but already we can see what a big success this is for individuals with developmental disabilities,” said Susan Hetherington, director of Project SEARCH at Golisano Children’s Hospital who holds joint appointments at the University of Rochester’s Warner School of Education and URMC’s Department of Pediatrics, where she is an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics and education. “The students are enjoying this opportunity, and several URMC departments have asked if they can keep their students.”

Project SEARCH is a national program that began at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center as a one-year, high school transition program, providing training and education for 18- to 21-year-olds with developmental disabilities. It serves as an alternative for students in their last year of high school with the goal of landing a competitive job upon completion.

Project SEARCH is the first employment program launched out of the Institute for Innovative Transition. The Institute, which was created last year with funding from the B. Thomas Golisano Foundation, aims to improve the quality of life for young adults with developmental disabilities and their families as they transition from school age to adulthood. The Institute is a collaboration of the Golisano Foundation, Strong Center for Developmental Disabilities, and the Warner School of Education and is under the leadership of Martha Mock, director of the Institute who also holds joint appointments at the Warner School and in the Department of Pediatrics in the Medical School, where she is an assistant professor of clinical pediatrics and education. For more information about the Institute, visit www.urmc.rochester.edu/pediatrics/transition.

“Project Search is exactly what we wanted,” said Ann Costello, Director of the Golisano Foundation. “It brings together the worlds of education and community services and expands options and opportunities for students with developmental disabilities as they transition from school to the work world.”

“The study we conducted in 2006 showed that there were too few options for students with developmental disabilities as they made this critical transition. Without a ‘champion’ or advocate, the chances for achieving a successful transition are enormously reduced. Now fast-forwarding to 2008 with the establishment of the Institute for Innovative Transition and today with the launch of Project Search, we have a structure in place to improve outcomes and help people be successful, connect with work experience and businesses, and be prepared for meaningful work.”

Five days a week, a dozen area school district students enrolled in the Monroe 2-Orleans BOCES. report to Golisano Children’s Hospital where they learn job readiness skills in the classroom for two hours. They spend the rest of the day developing those skills in an unpaid internship alongside a job coach provided by

“Having your independence, while being part of a community is so important,” said Barbara Wale, president and CEO of the Arc of Monroe County. “The Arc is thrilled to collaborate with other community-minded organizations and aid in guiding these young adults to be part of the communities that they live and work in.” (For more information about the Arc of Monroe, visit www.arcmonroe.org.)

Project SEARCH students will rotate through three internships during their year in the program. This year’s internship opportunities include greeting families when they arrive at the hospital, asking parents if they need anything in the waiting rooms, doing office work in divisions of the hospital and cleaning and maintaining isolettes in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit.

“We talk to so many families who become frustrated searching for employment opportunities for their young adults with developmental disabilities when they leave school. It’s a hard road between school and the working world and this program will help smooth that transition and ultimately help the students be more successful,” said Joe Kelly, Director for Exceptional Children Services at Monroe 2-Orleans BOCES. (For more information on Monroe 2 BOCES, visit www.monroe2boces.org.)

A New York State Developmental Disabilities Planning Council (DDPC) $100,000 grant helped fund the first Project SEARCH program in Rochester and, with support from the Golisano Foundation, two additional Project SEARCH programs in Monroe County are scheduled to launch fall 2010.

The expansion into the City of Rochester next fall will allow city students between 18 and 21 who have disabilities to take advantage of the innovative opportunities Project SEARCH provides.

“We are very excited to participate in this innovative program in partnership with the City of Rochester and the Arc of Monroe,” said Jean-Claude Brizard, Superintendent of the Rochester City School District. “We know that student success doesn’t end with high school graduation. It means being prepared for life after high school. Through Project SEARCH, our students will remain engaged in school with a clear vision for the future and the skills to be competitively employed upon graduation.”

The City of Rochester will provide classroom space for the program and, importantly, the internships across a broad range of government departments.

“URMC continues to lead in breaking down barriers with the expertise and passion required to help build a nation fit for all children to thrive,” said Jean Howard, Chief of Staff for the City of Rochester. “Our City will support and participate in any 'lessons learned' from Strong during Project SEARCH’s first year of operation. We are in motion and preparing for the kick-off of Project SEARCH at the City of Rochester in Fall 2010.”

For Media Inquiries:
Heather Hare
(585) 273-2840
Email Heather Hare