For the past year, a group of young adults with a range of disabilities has been working at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center. It’s called Project Search, and it’s been both school and workplace for these eight students, whose disabilities range from autism to Downs Syndrome. They’ve been getting on-site training to prepare them to enter the job market.
Their jobs included making beds, ushering patients to appointments, and organizing medical instruments. Six already have jobs, some outside the hospital. And in early June, they graduated from the program.
About half an hour before the ceremony, they chattered nervously in their classroom, helping each other with corsages and boutonnieres, and draping blue sashes over white shirts and black slacks. Twenty-year-old Jenny Mayfield said she’s ready to face the world, now that she has finished hospital rotations in housekeeping, food service, waste management, and transportation.
“I start my new job at the Quechee Club,” she announced.
Her mother, Liz Barker, straightened her corsage. Barker directs special education for the Hartford School District, which sends students to Project Search. She says her daughter and her friends have learned a lot this year.
“It’s indescribable,” Barker said. “It’s a level of maturity that students like this don’t necessarily show from a school-based program. They know what they do is important, that they are part of a workforce and they rise to the challenge.”
Their teacher, Laureen Blum, cried a little in in the hallway as she offered something like a final benediction. Blum commended them on the thank-you notes they wrote to hospital supervisors in the audience. Each graduate read one aloud during the ceremony. "You all deserve this moment. Savor it," she told the group
Matt Sampson worked in the endoscopy lab.
“I have worked part-time at a garage but I like to work at a place that DHMC a lot better. Some day I would like to get married and own my house, earning a good job that would help me reach that job. Thank you everyone in endoscopy for letting me work with you,” Sampson told his mentors.
The graduates received awards, and also gave them to the hospital workers they said were the most helpful. They chose Steve Bensen, a gastroenterologist, to give the keynote speech. Bensen congratulated them on their hard work.
“You’ve learned about reliability and dependability, social skills, communication skills, budgeting and money management, interviewing skills—getting around the workplace—and this is a very big workplace to get around,” Benson said.
Bensen noted that Dartmouth Medical School has recently been re-named the Geisel School of Medicine, after Dartmouth alum Theodore Geisel—aka Dr. Seuss. Benson borrowed a sentence from Seuss to hand out parting advice.
“You’re off to great places, today is your day, your mountain is waiting, so get on your way,” he said.
The adventuresome graduates are already planning an alumni trip, in 2014, to Disney World.