Project SEARCH interns work behind the scenes at hospital

Six Kenai Peninsula Borough School District students and graduates who spent part of this year working at Central Peninsula Hospital — folding linens, stocking and inventorying supplies, entering data, making beds, addressing envelopes, and sanitizing rooms — met with prospective employers and other members of the public at the Project Search Open House, held at the hospital on Tuesday.

The six worked in the hospital as part of the Project SEARCH program, which seeks to give developmentally disabled students job experience and training by placing them as interns in entry-level support positions at the hospital.

Project SEARCH Skills Trainer Joe Gallagher said that after students apply for Project Search in the spring, they start their internships in August. They work about 9 weeks each in three chosen departments of the hospital, which include human resources, imaging, maintenance, materials management, dietary, financial services, and laundry.

“The hospital’s a fantastic job site because there’s so many jobs,” Gallagher said.

In each department, the hospital assigns the students a mentor. Danielle Bahl, of CPH’s material management department, served as a mentor to Project SEARCH participants during their time in her department.

Of one participant, Michael Petrovich, Bahl said that he “really came out of his shell” during his time working with her.

“I think it was a good social experience for him,” Bahl said.

In addition to general workplace exposure, Petrovich gained specific technical skills from his internship, Bahl said. He learned to use a commercial cardboard compactor and a Pyxis Medstation, a computerized medication dispensing system that Bahl said is common in many hospitals.

According to his resume, Petrovich is now seeking a position as a stock clerk.

After the school district and hospital have given them work experience, Vocation Program Manager Nikki Marcano of Frontier Community Resources helps Project SEARCH alumni find places to apply it. Marcano spends her days matching the interests and abilities of disabled job-seekers with local openings, managing accommodations her clients might need in the workplace, and meeting with employers to sell them on the skills the people in her program could bring.

“People with disabilities tend to work a lot and work hard,” Marcano said.

In the past, Marcano said there have been few employment options for the disabled apart from “sheltered workshops,” a U.S. Department of Labor term for workplaces dedicated to employing disabled workers separately from others. Unlike the jobs she seeks for Project SEARCH alumni in established community businesses, Marcano said sheltered workshops pay sub-minimum wages and seldom have opportunities for training or advancement.

With programs like Project SEARCH, Marcano said, the idea of disabled people working alongside the general population is slowly catching on.

According to the event sign-in sheet, about 51 people — including representatives of employers such as Fred Meyer department store, Foster Construction, GCI, and Sweeney’s — came to meet and talk with the interns about their experience, read the presentation boards they’d made, and pick up copies of the resumés they’d written. Other local businesses that have attended in the past, according to a school district press release, include Walmart, Walgreens, Heritage Place and Charis Place assisted living centers, Blue Moose Bed and Biscuit, and the school district itself.

The nation-wide Project SEARCH program began in 1996, when the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center began seeking people with developmental disabilities to fill entry-level, high-turnover positions. The project started on the peninsula in 2012, according to previous Clarion reporting, with a partnership between the Kenai Peninsula School District, Central Peninsula Hospital, and various state agencies.

More in News

A pie chart shows Kenai Peninsula Borough School District expenditures by object for the current fiscal year. (Chart via KPBSD)
Explanation of how KPBSD organizes funds caps ‘Budget 101’ series

Finance Director Elizabeth Hayes delivered the presentation to school board members during a Monday work session

Rep. Justin Ruffridge, R-Soldotna, answers questions from constituents during a legislative update at the Kenai Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center on Wednesday, Dec. 6, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Ruffridge predicts school funding, energy security will be top issues in Juneau next session

Ruffridge has represented District 7, which includes Kenai and Soldotna, in the Alaska House of Representatives since October 2022

Members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District Board of Education meet on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
New school board group will study 4-day school week

The group will meet regularly until next July, when committee members will present their findings to the full board

Members of the Kenai/Soldotna Fish and Game Advisory Committee raise hands to vote in favor of a proposal during a meeting at Cook Inlet Aquaculture Association in Kenai, Alaska, on Monday, Nov. 20, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Advisory committee supports protections for lake trout and king salmon

Advisory committee recommendations will be weighed by the State Board of Fisheries alongside public testimony as they deliberate on each proposal

The Kenai Peninsula College Main Entrance on Aug. 18, 2022, in Soldotna, Alaska. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Inside the Iditarod

Showcase to feature stories from champion, event photographer

Paul Gebhardt is photographed on March 24, 1996. (M. Scott Moon/Peninsula Clarion)
Kasilof musher dies at 67

Paul Gebhardt was a 21-time participant in the Iditarod

Santa Claus hugs Paul Cook during Christmas in the Park festivities at Soldotna Creek Park in Soldotna, Alaska, on Saturday, Dec. 2, 2023. (Jake Dye/Peninsula Clarion)
Soldotna brings holiday cheer

Christmas in the Park drew hundreds to meet Santa Claus, go on sleigh rides, sip hot cocoa and listen to music

From left: Rep. Ben Carpenter, Sen. Jesse Bjorkman and Rep. Justin Ruffridge discuss their priorities regarding education during a work session with members of the Kenai Peninsula Borough School District on Monday, Dec. 4, 2023 in Soldotna, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
School funding, accountability dominate school board work session with lawmakers

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, Rep. Ben Carpenter and Rep. Justin Ruffridge joined the board for a work session in Soldotna

Snow coats an eroding bluff near the mouth of the Kenai River on Friday, March 3, 2023, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Kenai accepting bids on bluff stabilization project

The announcement means that contractors can start submitting their proposals for how they’d complete the work and how much it would cost to do so

Most Read