JONESBORO, AR (KAIT) - A Region 8 hospital steps up to help pave the way for the future of those with developmental disabilities.
St. Bernards held a kickoff event on Monday to celebrate a special partnership with "Project Search."
President and CEO of St. Bernards Healthcare Chris Barber said they are the first to bring this program to the Region 8 community.
"This is a wonderful day," Barber said. "We have eight wonderful interns that are working in a variety of positions throughout the organization. So, we're excited to be a partner in this and having new team members on staff and really see the impact it's having in the lives of many folks throughout our organization."
Project Search is a program that trains young adults with developmental disabilities for jobs in the workforce that pay competitive wages.
"This was a great opportunity," Barber said. "It's a national program. We're the first ones in Northeast Arkansas. We certainly felt we had the skill set to impart expertise from a work setting for these individuals as interns. We'll learn a lot in this process, as well. Providing trainable, workable skills for the future and we're excited to be able to do that because there was certainly a void in our state, certainly in our region. So, it's exciting."
Lori Smith, vice president of human resources at St. Bernards, said they're proud to help make this happen.
"We have loved getting to bring Project Search to Northeast Arkansas," Smith said. "Getting to have something like this on our side of the state, and getting to be part of hosting that for the first time, has been really exciting. I just get to interact with the interns and see how pumped they are to be here. They're very positive and it just makes all of us have a different perspective to realize what they go through to come here each day and how different their lives are from ours."
Project Search is a nine-month vocational training program designed to lead to competitive, integrated employment outcomes for these young adults.
"These are some amazing people," Barber said. "Their perseverance, their passion, commitment and dedication for work and learning new skills. So, it's just been a true blessing to have them as part of our team."
The eight interns at St. Bernards work in various departments including central supply, laundry, nursing, dietary services, and health and wellness.
Intern Katelyn Vernon works at St. Bernards Health and Wellness where she said she's learning a lot and having a great time in the process.
"I've been doing a lot of things," Vernon said. "I've been folding towels, and I've been helping greet people and I'm working with how to do stuff. How to do café and stuff like that. I'm having fun. My favorite thing is the Zumba and all the great people here. There are a lot of nice people here."
The interns are learning processes and marketable work skills that will help move them toward employment.
"It feels really awesome," Vernon said. "I'm really happy that I'm doing this and I can't wait to get a job."
Smith said the interns are having an immediate and positive effect on the St. Bernards staff.
"I think it gives us a better appreciation of all the different people we have in our community," Smith said. "We're already caring for patients that represent all different aspects of Northeast Arkansas. And getting to have even more individuals on our staff that help reflect our community is great. And again, just that positive attitude is a boost to everyone's morale. No matter what area they work in when you see their smiling faces, it's contagious."
Smith said they hope to increase the number of interns over the next few years.
"This is our first year. We wanted to keep the groups small since we're new at this program. But the goal is to keep growing that and to eventually have 12 to 15 interns in a school year," she said.
So far, the interns have completed six weeks of their first assignment in the program.
They will do three ten-week internships during the program, intermixed with lots of job skill training in the classroom.
"This is definitely a long-term commitment for St. Bernards," Smith said. "We're already talking about how to promote this next year so even more people in our area know about it. We do plan on offering this for several years to come and we're excited about finding other businesses in Northeast Arkansas that might want to partner with us and host our interns in the future."
Smith said they would be happy to let anyone interested in learning more about the program observe them in action.
"If there is a business that's considering hosting an intern or hiring them upon graduation, I would just invite them to come on site and let us show them what the interns are doing," Smith said. "They can even observe some of their classroom time and them working in our environment to see how that works for us. Because you'll never regret making that decision. To have one of these individuals in your workplace."
Copyright 2017 KAIT. All rights reserved.