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  • The Resource Center recognizes first graduates of Project SEARCH initiative

    Smiles and congratulations were abundant June 29 when three people became the first graduates of The Resource Center’s Project SEARCH initiative.

    Abigail Adam, Joshua Holsinger and Nicholas Kenzie were the proud honorees at a ceremony that took place at UPMC Chautauqua in Jamestown. The three have just completed a nine-month internship at UPMC as part of a collaboration between TRC and the hospital that brought Project SEARCH to Chautauqua County.

    Project SEARCH is an international program that gives people with developmental disabilities the opportunity to learn skills that are utilized by employees at a hospital. Abby, Joshua and Nick worked in a variety of departments at UPMC. They also had classroom training to learn the soft skills successful employees should possess.

    Cecil Miller, UPMC Chautauqua’s Vice President of Operations, was the first to congratulate the graduates. He also expressed his desire that TRC and the hospital will provide employment training to lots of people with disabilities through the Project SEARCH initiative.

    “We hope this is the first of many, many, many years,” Cecil said. He told the interns, “You really became a part of our family here, and know that you’ll always have a place.”

    Denise Jones, The Resource Center’s Chief Executive Officer, thanked TRC’s Employment Services team and UPMC for their commitment to Project SEARCH.

    “I’m very excited to see this program grow in Chautauqua County,” she said.

    Addressing the graduates, Denise told them, “I’ve seen so much growth and confidence in the three of you as you’ve gone through this project.”

    Katie Geise, Executive Director of Chautauqua Works, was the keynote speaker at the ceremony. She praised TRC and UPMC for partnering on a program that can help diversify the local economy.

    “What we need in Chautauqua County is to have every, single person feel welcomed and have a place in the workforce,” she said. “Project SEARCH did exactly that.”

    Katie marveled at the scope of work the graduates undertook and shared a partial list of the job skills Abby, Josh and Nick learned: sanitation of spaces; stocking and replenishing supplies; making beds; laundering; preparing and delivering patient trays; serving food in the cafe; operating the cash register; transporting patients; and monitoring oxygen tanks.

    Katie said that in addition to learning the physical skills of the job, the interns demonstrated the soft skills people need to be successful at work.

    “That they show up, do their jobs to the best of their ability, and work well with other people,” she said. “Having a positive attitude, being willing to learn, being willing to put your best foot forward. It doesn’t mean you’re always going to do it perfectly, but you’re willing to try.”

    Kerry Mihalko, the hospital’s Director of Nutrition and Food Services, said that when she and her staff were told Project SEARCH was coming to UPMC, they worried they wouldn’t have enough work for the interns.

    That fear proved to be unfounded.

    “We quickly learned the extra sets of hands were a gift to our department,” Kerry said. “In fact, the comment I hear now is not, `What are we going to do with them?’ but, `What are we going to do without them?”

    “You guys have worked so hard, and we’re so proud,” Faith Baker, TRC’s Employment Services Administrator, told the interns after presenting their graduation certificates. “I can’t wait to see what the rest of your journey brings.”

    The graduates gave gifts to TRC and UPMC officials while stating their appreciation for the opportunity to participate in Project SEARCH.

    “We would like to thank everyone at UPMC for giving us their time and putting in the effort to help us build on our employability skills,” Nick said. “We are ready to work and ready to show the world everything that we’ve learned.”

    Terri Johnson, TRC’s Director of Employment and Community-Based Services, praised Donna Matheson, Community Coach, for the time and effort she invested in supporting the interns during the program.

    Having finished Project SEARCH, Abby, Josh and Nick will start looking for jobs to put their skills to use.

    Startup funding for TRC’s Project SEARCH initiative was provided through a grant from Filling the Gap, Inc. The grant money came from The Resource Center Laurel Run Fund at the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation.

    Pictured are, from left, Donna Matheson, Abby Adam, Faith Baker, Josh Holsinger, and Nick Kenzie.

    200 Dunham Avenue, Jamestown, NY, 14701