by Alex Gurtis

Halifax Health is our community’s hospital and we have a responsibility to engage our community members at all levels. Project SEARCH allows us to fulfill this mission,” Halifax Health CEO Jeff Feasel said about the Project SEARCH Transition-to-Work Program.

As part of the program, Halifax Health trains people with developmental disabilities to fill entry-level positions. The program offers a unique, business-led, one-year employment preparation experience that provides a seamless combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and hands-on training through worksite rotations, culminating in individualized job development.

The hallmark of the program is total workplace immersion with the singular goal of competitive employment for every program graduate. “We achieve that goal by creating an atmosphere of high expectations while offering all the support, education and experience needed to meet those expectations. At Halifax Health, we have had 27 graduates over three years. All have gotten jobs, and Halifax Health is pleased to have hired nine of those graduates,” Feasel said.

Jeff Feasel

Project SEARCH began their partnership with Halifax Health in August 2016 but the program dates back to 1996 where it began at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center. The program, which continues to expand, currently has 400 sites worldwide, three of which are in Volusia County.. “Halifax Health was one of the three places in mind from the beginning. Halifax is the center of our community in Volusia County, and they are a huge advocate for individuals with disabilities,” said Braandon Davis, Project SEARCH’s Skills Trainer. “We knew this would be a great opportunity to showcase what the individuals we serve can do in a hospital setting and at the same time show the community that these individuals can intern and work fully paid positions. We approached Volusia County Schools and Halifax Health and after a couple of conversations both were excited to partner with us.”

For Halifax Health, Project SEARCH is a rewarding Corporate Social Responsibility program–one that provides the dual benefits of invaluable job training for individuals in the program and a trained workforce for Halifax to tap into to fill their employment needs.

Braandon Davis

It’s also a program beloved by Halifax Health employees. “Each manager at Halifax Health who works with Project SEARCH to train and supervise the recent high school graduates has said the program is a morale booster, says Halifax Health’s Project SEARCH Employment Specialist, WG Watts.

To participate in the program, individuals must apply during their senior year of high school and fulfill their graduation requirements. Candidates must also pass a background check. “We look at the need for work training, their individual plan, and their discipline record. They’re then paired with different managers at Halifax Health’s Port Orange and Daytona Beach locations or Stetson University through Project SEARCH,” said Cathy Galotti, Project SEARCH Coordinator for Volusia County Schools.

Once they have completed their year of training, program graduates go on to find an entry-level job. Graduates are often hired to work in medical records, dietary, and other hospital services at Halifax Health or find similar work elsewhere in the community.

WG Watts

The program has been so successful, that Volusia County received an award from Project SEARCH for having a 100% success rate, meaning that ALL of their high school graduates that participated in the program had maintained a job for at least 180 days. “I get so excited about this program. It’s incredible to see how different students are on the first day compared to the last day, to see their growth as they blossom with newly gained confidence,” said Galotti.

“Ultimately, it’s the fact that we’ve been able to empower these individuals through employment that’s important,” said WG Watts. It’s a sentiment echoed by graduates of the program like Heather McGinnis, a Project SEARCH 2016-2017 alumna.

“I learned how to be professional, complete a job task; I learned that there are different areas that I am interested in working at Halifax [Health] sometime down the line. I graduated from Project SEARCH, got offered a job at Halifax [Health] and now I am living in my own apartment with roommates,” sums up McGinnis.

Heather McGinnis

Alex Gurtis is a freelance journalist and poet. His work has appeared in 32805ORLNews, the Orlando Sentinel, the Daytona Beach News Journal, Zephyr and Storyteller Magazine.