When Brittany French gets rolling with a cart full of water pitchers, it’s hard to keep up with her. On a medical/surgical unit at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital, Brittany taps on patients’ doors and brightly says, “good morning,” as she replenishes bedside water, smiles and hurries to the next room.
“This is a big step,” says Rita Dee, program director for Project Search, a collaborative program with the Norfolk Public Schools, VCU, Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services and Hired Hands & Associates, that provides skills training and jobs for recent high school graduates with disabilities. “When Brittany started,” Dee recalls, “she was too shy to knock on the door, much less walk in and say hello.”
Brittany has cerebral palsy. She graduated from Norview High School in Norfolk in June and currently interns as a care partner, a post in which she performs a variety of resupply duties. She runs specimens to the labs and recently learned to take patients’ vital signs.
“I enjoy it very much,” Brittany recently told reporter Lia Russell of The Compass, the Norfolk city tab for the Virginian-Pilot. “The best part is interacting with patients and helping them.”
For Joshua Rout, a 2009 graduate of Granby High School in Norfolk, Project Search brings growing responsibilites. He works methodically in Endoscopy, preparing beds, moving equipment and escorting patients from the waiting area to their assigned beds in prep and recovery. He has also worked in Central Transport and says he enjoyed learning his way around the vast hospital in spite of his intellectual disability.
In addition to work experience, interns in Project Search receive daily classroom training in independent living, social skills and keeping a job.
Learning to navigate the Hampton Roads Transit bus system is also part of independent living skills. On a recent morning they gathered in a classroom and pored over laptop computers, looking for jobs that match their skills, training and interests after they complete the year-long program.
(R) Project Search interns look for job opportunities online during classroom time at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.
Sentara Healthcare is committed to providing employment when jobs exist for graduates of Project Search. In a handful of cases, positions have been created when there seems to be a good fit.
Sentara CarePlex Hospital won a ‘Champions’ award last November from the Virginia Department of Rehabilitative Services for its pioneering role as Virginia’s first Project SEARCH graduating class. Sentara Williamsburg Regional Medical Center also participates in the program.
Project Search is growing in Virginia and Sentara continues to be a leader in this innovative program to provide training, meaningful work and dignity to young adults with disabilities.
“The staff and patients love Brittany French,” says Beverly Dowell, RN, nurse manager on the unit where Brittany French works. “She fits in perfectly.”
Read the Virginian-Pilot article “Special-ed Students Get Hospital Work,” that was featured on February 14, 2011.