Students with disabilities find jobs through Project SEARCH

Program prepares locals for jobs in healthcare, retail

Posted 12/4/19

From an early age, Arvada resident Chris Cannizzaro was acquainted with the radiology department; even now, he can recall MRIs he had as a toddler. “As a kid, I was afraid of the MRI machine,” he …

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Students with disabilities find jobs through Project SEARCH

Program prepares locals for jobs in healthcare, retail

Posted

From an early age, Arvada resident Chris Cannizzaro was acquainted with the radiology department; even now, he can recall MRIs he had as a toddler.

“As a kid, I was afraid of the MRI machine,” he said. It wasn’t until high school, when Cannizzaro was considering a career in medicine, that he researched MRIs again.

“I was looking online and was like, `it doesn’t seem so scary,’” he said. After that, “it was actually my dream to work in radiology.”

Now 22, Cannizzaro has realized that dream and works in the radiology department of the UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital in Aurora, taking patients back to the exam room and preparing them for their MRIs.

“I love getting to work with the patients and make them feel at ease,” he said. And he added that he owes it all to Project SEARCH.

Started in Cincinnati in 1996, Project SEARCH is a free employment training program for students ages 18 through 20 who have intellectual disabilities. The program runs internationally, with the Colorado branch organized by nonprofit Easterseals Colorado in partnership with several groups, including Children’s Hospital Colorado, UCHealth and Jeffco Public Schools. It is funded through the state’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation.

Project SEARCH runs from August to May, with participants completing two internships and more than 100 hours of instructional time with Jeffco teachers and paraprofessionals, or school aides.

In their internships, which range from placements in medical facilities to clerical positions in offices, students develop their workforce skills while narrowing down what kind of career they would like to pursue.

In the classroom, they learn a wide array of life skills from healthy eating, budgeting, mental health and social skills — everything “necessary to help them get a job out in the community,” said Megan Quinn, employment specialist with Easterseals Colorado. “The end goal is competitive employment.”

When Daniel Barela looks back on his time in Project SEARCH, he remembers learning important lessons both big and small, he said. Barela, who has a learning disability, participated in the program in 2016 before being connected with his current job at Target in Colorado Mills.

“It (Project SEARCH) was showing us that we’ve got to show up on time, and if we’ve ever got the cold, we have to call,” he said.

And in his internships, working in an office and in a hospital cafeteria, “it was a very important experience to learn things I’ve never done before,” he said. “I definitely feel like it will help in the future.”

Project SEARCH is accepting applications for its 2020-2021 class, which will begin in August. Participants can download the application from http://childrenscolorado.org/about/careers.

Applicants must be ages 18, 19 or 20 and be currently enrolled in a high school special education program or transition program. They must also qualify for services from the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation and Community Centered Board.

All additional requirements are listed on the Children’s Colorado site.

“My advice would be, don’t be nervous. Have fun with the job and interacting with the people you work with,” Cannizzaro said. “If there’s something bothering you, don’t let it get in your way. I learned that at Project SEARCH.”

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