Nikiski High School student Justin Mason, with diploma, poses for a photo at his graduation from Project SEARCH flanked by (left from right) Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Assistant Superintendent Dave Jones, Board of Education member Penny Vadla, Superintendent Sean Dusek and Pupil Services Director Clayton Holland, Monday, May 16, 2017 at Central Peninsula Hospital. (Kat Sorensen/Peninsula Clarion)

Project SEARCH awards five diplomas to graduates

On Monday night, a group of five interns from across the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District were celebrated with a graduation ceremony for their work with Project SEARCH , a program that seeks to give developmentally disabled students job experience and training.

The ceremony was held at the Central Peninsula Hospital, where the five interns have been working in different rotations throughout the hospital in a variety of specialty areas such as maintenance, dietary, volunteer services, and laundry and transport.

“The goal of Project SEARCH is to get them ready to enter the job world, to give them the skills that they would need to be succcessful so they have all worked in three different rotations at the hospital during the last nine months,” said Project SEARCH Skills Trainer Joe Gallagher. “They’ve all completed the project and tonight we’re gathered here to honor their achievements.”

Ian Smith of Kenai Central High School, Justin Mason and Grace Satterwhite of Nikiski High School and Phillip Kitchen and Michael Petrovich of Soldotna High School each received their high school diplomas as well as certificates of accomplishments for a variety of job training courses at during the ceremony.

In each of the departments, the hospital assigns the students a mentor to work with them.

“My mentors helped me with learning the specific skills I needed in those areas,” Kitchen said. “My favorite part about Project SEARCH is that these guys are able to be patient with us and deal with our problems.”

This year, Facilities Engineering Manager Scott Mullen of the hospital’s maintenance department took on the task of being a mentor for the first time.

“When project SEARCH approached me, we were a little apprehensive because we deal with such safety factors but we took our first intern on and it was a huge success,” Mullen said. “It was as much a learning process for us as it was to the intern that was with us.”

Following their graduation, several of the students already have jobs lined up at places such as Fred Meyer, Sweeney’s Clothing and Riverside Assisted Living, all in Soldotna.

“Everyone in the program was very kind, very thoughtful and very helpful for getting a job,” Satterwhite said.

She’ll be starting work at Riverside Assisted Living where she will use the skills she learned during her rotation, including laundry and day surgery, where the interns would turnover different rooms used throughout the day.

“In day surgery, I cleaned beds, counters and I stocked. It was just really helpful,” she said.

The ceremony’s guest speaker, John Dodds, vice-president of human resources with the hospital, spoke to the graduates about finding inspiration daily and their futures after Project SEARCH.

“Go forth with the understanding that we are all so very proud of you and we will always be wishing you all the best in your future endeavors,” Dodd said. “We have to watch you from afar, but we do so with confidence that you have learned many skills in the Project SEARCH program which will help you meet life’s challenges.”

Reach Kat Sorensen at

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