Project SEARCH Program

Employment for Exceptional Young Adults

Project SEARCH’s primary objective is to secure competitive, integrated employment for people with disabilities.

Project SEARCH is driven by collaboration with many community partners: A host business, an education partner, a supported employment provider, Vocational Rehabilitation and the local Developmental Disability organization. Ohio Project SEARCH sites are jointly funded by local education providers, Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD), and are further supported by county boards of developmental disabilities, business partners, and OOD vocational rehabilitation service providers.

Transition-to-Work Program
The goal for each program participant is competitive employment. To reach that goal, the program provides real-life work
experience combined with training in employability and independent-living skills to help young people with disabilities make successful transitions to productive adult life.

The Project SEARCH model involves an extensive period of skills training and career exploration, embedded job supports, long-term job coaching, and continuous feedback from teachers, skills trainers, and employers. Interns have the opportunity to gain the skills necessary to find complex and rewarding jobs.

In addition, the presence of a Project SEARCH program can bring about long-term changes in business culture that have far-reaching positive effects on attitudes about hiring people with disabilities and the range of jobs in which they can be successful.

Project SEARCH serves young people with disabilities. These are high school students who are on an Individual Education Program (IEP) and meet these criteria:

  • 17-22 years of age and have met requirements for graduation.
  • Basic communication, reading, and math skills.
  • Work-place appropriate social, grooming, and hygiene skills
  • Independent feeding and toileting skills.
  • Accepts feedback and can change behavior with teaching
  • Able to follow the rules, policies, procedures, and guidelines of Tri Rivers Career Center and OhioHealth Marion General Hospital.
  • Eligible for service through OOD (Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities).

The most important criterion for acceptance into Project SEARCH is a desire to achieve competitive employment and is committed to working in the community (at least 16 hours per week) at the end of the program.

Program Overview
Program participants (interns) attend the program for a full school year at our host business—Marion General Hospital. Marion General provides access to an on-site training room that can accommodate up to 8 interns. The site is staffed by a special education teacher and skills trainers to meet the educational and training needs of the interns.

Once the program year begins, the first few weeks are focused on intern orientation, hands-on skill assessment, and familiarization with the business environment. Interns develop a career plan, which guides the internship selection process and individualized job search.

Employment Skills Curriculum
Throughout the program year, the interns work on employability and functional skills for approximately one hour of their day. Training room activities are designed around these focus areas: Team Building, Workplace Safety, Technology, Maintaining Employment, Self-Advocacy, Financial Literacy, Health and Wellness, and Preparing for Employment.

Through a series of three targeted internships the interns acquire competitive, marketable and transferable skills to enable them to apply for a related position. Interns also build communication, teamwork, and problem-solving skills which is important to their overall development as a young worker.

These are unpaid work experiences. Potential internship sites are identified through a continuous collaborative process involving the instructor, skills trainers, and business liaison. Interns are required to communicate with their instructor via phone or email to inform them of an absence or planned appointment.

A  mentor is identified in each apartment. The mentor works alongside the instructor, skills trainers, and the intern as a consistent source of guidance and feedback. Interns spend approximately five hours each day in the internships, which includes a thirty minute lunch. These internships allow each of them to acquire the core skills necessary to be hired in an entry-level position at the host business site or at another business in the community.

Intern Selection
Students are typically referred to the program through their schools, a family member, or Vocational Rehabilitation Counselor (VR) and apply online at starting in November. A team representative of all the partners: Project SEARCH instructor, host business liaison, VR Counselor, community rehabilitation provider staff, and other appropriate personnel carry out the selection process. The process includes a Skills Assessment Day. The Skills Assessment includes: student interviews and hands-on activities at the host business.

Benefits to the Students:
• Increase Independence, confidence, and self-esteem

• Gain employment skills and work experience
• Obtain work-based individualized coaching, instruction, and feedback from the instructor, skills trainers, and Marion General Hospital—Ohio Health associates

Project SEARCH was developed at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, a research environment that fosters visionary thinking and innovation.

It began in 1996, when Erin Riehle was Director of Cincinnati Children’s Emergency Department. Erin felt that, because the hospital served individuals with developmental disabilities as patients, it made sense that they should commit to hiring people in this group. She wondered if it would be possible to train people with developmental disabilities to fill some of the high-turnover, entry-level positions in her department. These jobs involved complex and systematic tasks, such as stocking supply cabinets.

To learn more about the feasibility of her idea, she turned to Great Oaks Career Campuses and the Hamilton County Board of Developmental Disability Services. Through this outreach, Erin met Susie Rutkowski, then the special education director at Great Oaks. Erin and Susie formed a partnership that was instantaneous, and together they turned the idea of filling a handful of jobs in Cincinnati Children’s Emergency Department into a comprehensive, internationally recognized program model—Project SEARCH.

Project SEARCH has grown from one original program site at Cincinnati Children’s to over 650 programs across 48 states and ten countries.  Some of our Ohio business partners include: Fifth Third Bank, Dow Chemical, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Hilton Easton, Cleveland Clinic, Westfield Insurance, Miami University to name a few.

We’ve Grown!
Project SEARCH has grown from one original program site at Cincinnati Children’s to over 650 programs across 48 states and ten countries.  Some of our Ohio business partners include: Fifth Third Bank, Dow Chemical, Nationwide Children’s Hospital, Hilton Easton, Cleveland Clinic, Westfield Insurance, Miami University to name a few.

Ohio Health
OhioHealth has earned local and national recognition for serving people with disabilities. In 2007, OhioHealth earned the Best Practice Distinction from the Governor’s Council on People with Disabilities. The council again recognized OhioHealth as the 2010 Employer of the Year for Large Employer, signifying their continued commitment to serving the disability community. In collaboration with community and vocational partners, OhioHealth continues to provide internship programs and vocational opportunities for their associates with disabilities.

How Do You Apply?
Interested students must apply, and student interns are accepted through a selection committee process. All students must also be eligible for service with Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities (OOD).

For additional information or to request an application, contact your home school guidance counselor, Tri-Rivers Career Center Project SEARCH Coordinator, or OOD Counselor.

Project SEARCH Coordinator:
Ali Schuster



Watch for Events