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Erin Riehle, MSN, RN (center), with Project SEARCH graduates Eric Johnson, Paul Wilson and Mary Bodle (from left).
While walking through the medical center, Josh turns to his father and says, “I want to work here when I grow up.”
“Why?” his father asks. Cincinnati is a long way from their home in New Hampshire.
“I want to be normal.”
Josh has special needs, and he doesn’t feel normal in very many places. However, looking around Cincinnati Children’s and seeing some of the more than 60 employees with disabilities gives Josh a glimpse of the life he envisions for himself.
These employees are graduates of Project SEARCH, an internationally recognized job training program for people with developmental disabilities. The program was founded at Cincinnati Children’s more than 15 years ago by Erin Riehle, MSN, RN, when she was the clinical director of the emergency department.
Around the same time she was having an issue with staff turnover, Erin saw a gap in the workforce at Cincinnati Children’s. “I noticed that so many of our patients had a developmental disability, yet none of our employees represented this significant group of people.”
Soon after, Erin began training and hiring employees with disabilities, and Project SEARCH was born.
Project SEARCH partners with schools and a diverse group of employers to transition students with special needs from high school to meaningful employment. The program opens new doors for its graduates and allows them to establish independence and build self-esteem.
Mary Bodle is a Project SEARCH graduate and has worked as a patient escort for more than 10 years. As a past patient, Mary is able to empathize with and comfort patients as she transports them through the medical center. Her salary and benefits enable Mary to be more independent and rely less on government benefits, but more importantly, she is very proud of her role at Cincinnati Children’s. In fact, Mary is known for her “I Love My Job” pin.
“Project SEARCH is based on a business model that makes sense for companies and hospitals,” Erin explains. “But the best part is that we are also changing perceptions.”
Employees like Mary hold the same titles and job responsibilities as their colleagues in departments and divisions across the medical center. Their managers and coworkers value them as employees and friends.
Project SEARCH receives generous operating support from the Convalescent Hospital for Children, an affiliate of Cincinnati Children’s, each year. The Project SEARCH staff works diligently to secure additional funding for the program’s expansion and replication efforts.
Today, Project SEARCH has more than 200 programs in hospitals and businesses in 42 states and two countries, and it will soon expand to five more countries. More than 2,500 students participate in the program worldwide each year, with approximately 67 percent obtaining full-time employment by graduation.
“Our doctors, nurses and staff improve medical outcomes,” Erin says. “Project SEARCH changes the outcome by opening doors to employment and independence.”
If you have had an experience with Cincinnati Children's, we invite you to share your story.
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