Beating the Odds
VCU holds completion ceremony for Project SEARCH Interns
University Public Affairs
When Anthony Cook walked into Sheila Holmes’ classroom at VCU Medical Center last year, Holmes didn’t quite know if Cook was the right fit for her program.
She knew Cook from seeing him walk the halls a few years earlier at Richmond’s Armstrong High School.
“He was a just little too negative,” said Holmes. “I didn’t know how he would get along with people in the hospital.”
Cook was entering Holmes’ classroom as a participant of Project SEARCH, a nationwide, one-year, high school transition program that provides skills training and work experience for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities, ages 18 to 22.
VCU hosted its third Project SEARCH completion ceremony on Wednesday to honor four student interns who participated in this year’s program working in jobs ranging from data management to patient transport. In addition to Cook, the interns honored were Preston Harper, Huguenot High School; Jameel Umi, John Marshall High School; and Davin Ward, Armstrong High School.
By the time Wednesday’s ceremony rolled around, Cook had made a transformation.
“I have just been taken aback by his positivity,” Holmes said. “Not only has he been positive about everything, but he has gotten nothing but positive feedback from his supervisors.”
Not only did Cook’s attitude change shortly after becoming a member of Project SEARCH, so too did his work ethic. He regularly arrived at work early without being asked and worked diligently throughout the day.
Holmes couldn’t have been happier to see the progress.
“It’s so great to see where he came from to where he is,” Holmes said. “It shows that the program is working and kids are benefiting.”
The benefit comes thanks to a group of organizations.
The VCU Medical Center serves as a host site for the students to intern and attend class. Some interns also are offered a part-time or full-time position at the hospital after they complete the program.
John Duval, CEO, MCV Hospitals, VCU Health System, and Maria Curran, VCU Health System vice president for human resources, both offered words of encouragement to the interns at Wednesday’s ceremony.
Another big contributor to Project SEARCH is the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services (DRS), which contracts with VCU Business Connections to provide on-site job coaches to train students in their internships and provide job development services as students complete the year.
Jim Rothrock, Virginia DRS commissioner, also addressed the interns.
“Project SEARCH puts you on a path to earn money, but it also provides a sense of purpose and identity,” he said. “We need each and every one of you to contribute to the commonwealth.”
Also in attendance was Paul Wehman, director of VCU Rehabilitation Research and Training Center (RRTC). VCU RRTC, with the support of the Virginia Department of Education, has established Project SEARCH sites in Richmond, Norfolk, Montgomery County, Manassas County and Tazewell County.
In his remarks, Wehman noted that the unemployment rate for individuals with disabilities in the inner city is 70 to 80 percent.
“You have been given the opportunity to not be part of that 70 to 80 percent,” he told the interns.
Holmes, Project SEARCH teacher and Richmond Public Schools employee, was accompanied by Victoria Oakley, Richmond Public Schools chief academic officer. All of VCU Medical Center’s Project SEARCH interns are Richmond City School students.
Both women were elated to announce that one of their students had been offered a part-time job in environmental services at VCU Medical Center, while Project SEARCH representatives plan to work with the other three interns in finding employment.
The intern who was offered employment: Anthony Cook.