A program that helps people with intellectual and developmental disabilities learn work-related skills and find permanent employment in Denver is now coming to Greeley.
UCHealth Greeley Hospital is partnering with Greeley-Evans School District 6 to provide a school-to-work transition program for young adults called Project SEARCH. Five young residents of Weld County will begin interning at the hospital on Aug. 2.
“This is about growing our kids and giving them opportunities,” said Marilyn Schock, president of Greeley Hospital.
The young adults have one hour of structured learning in a classroom Monday through Thursday, then go to different departments within Greeley Hospital to learn on-the-job skills. The students then regroup in a classroom to debrief on lessons learned that day.
On-the-job skills don’t only mean stocking supplies or organizing work areas, as Sam Levin learned. Levin interns at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital as part of the Project SEARCH partnership there.
UCHealth has collaborated with Project SEARCH since 2017. Students have been immersed in various environments at UCH on the Anschutz Medical Campus.
UCHealth staff who work with interns develop do not set unrealistic expectations but aim to meet the interns where they are.
Levin’s supervisors recognized his ability to connect with people soon after he started working in the acute care of elders (ACE) unit at the hospital. They encouraged him to visit with patients, as many were lonely and had extra anxiety.
“I am very talkative,” Levin said.
Soon after, Levin knew all the patients by name, their hobbies and family member, and patients began requesting visits from the 19-year-old intern.
Dozens of young adults graduate from the program at UCH, and some 90% secure jobs at UCHealth hospitals or other employers in their communities.
Yaw Blu Soe is one of those graduates.
Blu Soe is blind. He was born in Myanmar and raised in a Thai refugee camp. He can see some shadows but relies on hearing, touch and willful independence to navigate his surroundings.
Blu Soe, who is also on the autism spectrum, spent his first semester stocking nurses’ stations in the emergency department and then he interned in the kitchen.
He now works for UCH, stocking isolation carts with blood pressure cuffs, thermometers, sterile gloves, procedure masks and more. During the pandemic, these carts became one of the main lines of defense to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“I think it’s a pretty good job,” Blu Soe said.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor and Statistics, only 19.1% of people with a disability were employed in 2021, compared with 63.7% of people without a disability.
In addition to their weekly shifts at the hospital, the interns spend one day a week learning additional life skills by collaborating with other community agencies linked to Project SEARCH. For instance, an intern could spend time learning how to ride a bus or how to shop in a grocery store. Or they may spend time with speech and occupational therapists to learn how to apply fine motor skills, for example, to everyday life skills, said Karen Galvin, a special education teacher for Greeley-Evans school district and instructor for Project SEARCH.
One of the Greeley Hospital interns, Kayla Gallagher, is eager to be part of the program.
“I’m excited for the opportunity to try something new and see how well I do,” said Gallager, 20.
Susie Johnson’s son, Lino, has always wanted to be an electrician. She hopes his internship at the hospital will enlighten him about employment opportunities and possibilities.
Schock is confident that interns will find gainful employment after participating in Project SEARCH at Greeley Hospital.
During an orientation event held in May, Schock told the incoming interns: “I love coming to work, and I want to help you match that (enthusiasm) with job skills.”