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Project SEARCH Builds Job Bridges

By Adriana Catanzarite, Editorial Intern

Finding a job is challenging for most people. But people with intellectual developmental disabilities often have a harder time with their search than the average Joe.

Kaiser Permanente South Bay Medical Center’s Project SEARCH is helping people like 21-year-old Michelle Rojas circumvent those challenges.

“My teachers helped with my interview portion,” said Rojas, who has a speech impairment.

“They’re taking me to a job fair to help me find work. I want to work at Target or Walmart, because I think I’d really like it there, and I’d be good at it.”

Her communication skills have greatly improved.

On June 8, Rojas and six of her peers graduated from the Project SEARCH class of 2016. Three of those graduates have already found jobs. The program provides job training and education via strategically designed internships for people with intellectual developmental disabilities.

About Project SEARCH

Kaiser Permanente South Bay is in its fourth year of  Project SEARCH, which began in 1996. It’s the only site in the South Bay offering the program. Kaiser Permanente partnered with Best Buddies, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Harbor Regional Center to provide this internship. The program provides education and job training in three 10-week rotations. When students graduate, Best Buddies helps get them a job matching their skills and qualifications from participating employers like Trader Joe’s or Madame Tussauds.

San Pedro resident Tyler Zuieback recently graduated from Kaiser Permanente South Bay Medical Center's Project SEARCH, an internship program for people with intellectual developmental disabilities.
San Pedro resident Tyler Zuieback recently graduated from Kaiser Permanente South Bay Medical Center’s Project SEARCH, an internship program for people with intellectual developmental disabilities.

Each week, students are given onsite job training in various departments throughout Kaiser. They try to find a match for each student. If the student has an interest in medical health or pharmaceuticals, the program gives them the opportunity to work in that department. One of the graduates dreamt of being a chef, for example. Now, he works as a cook at Kaiser Permanente’s food services division.

Kaiser Chief Administrative Officer Ozzie Martinez said it’s exciting to be a part of something that has such a huge impact on the community.

“When we started this program we thought we were going to come out with this internship and provide an opportunity for young adults so they can be successful,” Martinez said. “Very quickly we learned we were receiving a bigger gift. The impact our interns have on our culture is incredible. They bring an incredible energy and dedication to the job.”

Living with Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities

According to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, an intellectual disability affects intellectual functioning and adaptive behavior. Basically a person with an intellectual disability learns at a slower rate. The Special Olympics estimates that about 6.5 million people in the United States are living with an intellectual disability.

Though employers are not allowed to discriminate against applicants with disabilities, the unemployment rate for people with intellectual disabilities is 85 percent, according to National Core Indicators. But programs such as Project SEARCH may steadily change that statistic.

Unemployment among those with intellectual disability is so high because society is largely misinformed about what they think people with an intellectual disability can accomplish, Martinez said. He’s also noticed that many incoming interns also lacked confidence in their abilities. By providing a support system, the majority of students were able to become more independent and follow their passions.

“The level of professionalism in our interns is incredible,” Martinez said. “They show up, they are present; they’re dedicated and they have ownership and responsibility. They really become examples of the type of employees that we want to see.”

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