How Vanderbilt’s Project SEARCH is Making a Difference for LEAD Alumni With Disabilities
LEAD Public Schools is committed to ensuring that every student is ready for life after high school graduation, including our students with disabilities. The Vanderbilt University Medical Center (VUMC) is helping continue that mission for two LEAD alumni with Project SEARCH, a job-training program for adults with disabilities that takes place on VUMC’s campus.
“Historically, adults with disabilities have been significantly underrepresented in the workplace,” said Brandon Pflug, an instructor at Project SEARCH. “The Project SEARCH program has proven that individuals with disabilities do succeed at work! This program is a ‘win-win’ for all because it not only provides valuable training and the opportunity to secure a career path for job seekers with disabilities, but it is also an extremely valuable program to Vanderbilt University Medical Center as a whole.”
Since 2005, VUMC has been filling the community’s business needs with qualified people living with developmental disabilities through Project SEARCH. Participants in the program train in three 10-week internships with the goal of securing competitive employment by the conclusion of the program.
After graduating from LEAD Academy in 2022, Jonathan Foster and Daisy Rubio Cruz are both participating in this year’s Project SEARCH program. Through the program, Foster and Cruz have received consistent, on-site support including coaching and feedback from skills trainers and departmental mentors. The program also provides them an extensive curriculum that assists with the development of transferable industry skills.
“I have seen Jonathan [Foster] and Daisy [Rubio Cruz] grow immensely during their time with Project SEARCH,” said Pflug. “Both have greatly increased their independence and are accessing their communities and lives in a more independent way. They have developed excellent work-specific skills and have built transferable skills that are desirable to the medical center and other community businesses.”
Of the three internship experiences, Foster’s favorite position was working in the Heart Center of the Children’s Hospital. In the role, he helped change linens and sanitized beds, stretchers, and other equipment.
“I really liked that department because my coworkers and managers were so nice, and I liked the work environment,” said Foster. “It was quiet and I was able to work on my own.”
Rubio Cruz’s favorite internship experience was in the materials management department. In this role, she stocked supplies and filled orders from surgery teams, including locating all of the items needed in the warehouse and delivering the orders.
“My favorite part about Project SEARCH was learning about health and wellness and trying new things,” said Rubio Cruz. “I also enjoyed learning about Vanderbilt University Medical Center.”
Since 2005, 124 adults with disabilities have graduated from the program and 110 of those individuals have gone on to secure employment with the medical center and surrounding community businesses. Pflug believes both Rubio Cruz and Foster will follow a similar path.
“I have observed both Daisy (Rubio Cruz) and Jonathan’s (Foster) confidence grow and they have both become natural leaders and self advocates,” said Pflug. “They credit their success in the workplace to Project SEARCH and we are confident that they will go on to do great things!”
Project SEARCH at Vanderbilt University Medical Center is currently recruiting interns for the 2023-2024 program year. If you are interested in learning more about the program, please contact Brandon Pflug at firstname.lastname@example.org.