Project SEARCH benefits Regional Health, students alike
A rewarding career provides most people with a sense of purpose and belonging. The same goes for young adults who are differently abled, except it may be more challenging for them to attain their goals if they don’t have the right support.
For the fourth year, Regional Health caregivers are mentoring students in Project SEARCH, an international initiative to help young people with significant disabilities find employment. Regional Health – at Rapid City Hospital and now at Sturgis Hospital in its first year – is the only employer in western South Dakota to host Project SEARCH students.
“This is a wonderful way for Regional Health to support students in the Black Hills who want to continue to give back to their community through rewarding careers,” said Kaitlyn Schieffer, Talent Development Consultant and Regional Health’s business liaison for Project SEARCH. “It’s also a wonderful way for our caregivers to get to know people they might not otherwise build a relationship with, so it’s a beneficial relationship for everyone involved.”
Nearly all of the students from last year’s class are now caregivers at Regional Health. “It’s great because we’re investing in students in our own communities, and then they are able to join us as Regional Health caregivers,” Kaitlyn said. Students get hands-on experience in several departments and spend time learning other skills such as interviewing for jobs and filing taxes. Students have completed rotations in Food and Nutrition, Environmental Services, Laundry, Employee Health & Well-Being and Human Resources, among other departments.
Craig Muller, Supervisor of Central Supply Sterile, said the Project SEARCH students who have gone through his department have done great work and were very eager to learn. “As a parent of a child facing challenges, I am very thankful that programs like this exist,” he said. “The mentors care deeply about the students and helping them find their path.
After this year, 27 students will have graduated from Project SEARCH at Regional Health. This year’s class, which graduates in May, includes nine students from communities across the Black Hills – Wall, Belle Fourche, Meade County, Rapid City and Box Elder.
Kaitlyn noted that Project SEARCH is really the only transition-to-work program available in this area for students right after high school, as they typically aren’t eligible for other services until the age of 22. The project involves folks from the South Dakota Department of Human Services, Vocational Rehabilitation and Black Hills Special Services Cooperative.
As a Licensed Social Worker, Kaitlyn has truly enjoyed working with this program because it’s directly related to her degree. “We usually don’t talk about this population of people in terms of helping them find rewarding careers. But everyone wants to belong and to connect in that way. I’m thrilled to be a part of that,” she said. Kaitlyn hopes the program will continue to expand to other Regional Health locations to ensure that students in all of our communities have the same opportunities for development .