Project SEARCH provides opportunities for SWFL hospital interns with disabilities

Reporter: Taylor Petras Writer: Joey Pellegrino
Published: Updated:
Project SEARCH intern Harmony Kaminski works at the front desk of Golisano Children’s Hospital. Credit: WINK News

Hospitals in Southwest Florida are finally getting back to normal operations after Hurricane Ian, including a group of disabled interns with Project SEARCH, who returned to work on Monday.

Project SEARCH is a collaboration between Southwest Florida school districts, hospital systems and the Center for Independent Living Gulf Coast. It’s a year-long program that gives young adults with developmental and intellectual disabilities the tools they need to land a job.

The first person you’ll see when you walk into Golisano Children’s Hospital, for example, is Harmony Kaminski. She’ll get you a visitor’s pass. As an intern with Project SEARCH at Lee Health, the 18-year-old is learning all kinds of things.

“They show me different tasks that they want me to do, like laundry, stocking,” Kaminski said.

Project SEARCH intern Harmony Kaminski works at the front desk of Golisano Children’s Hospital. Credit: WINK News

Kaminski and 11 other Project SEARCH interns spend the first part of their day with their teacher Colleen Tenfelde. They have a lot to do.

“Financial literacy, how to use technology and be safe how to be safe living on your own, workplace interests, how to interview, how to act,” Tenfelde said. “They just want that normalcy that they see on an everyday basis, and there’s no reason why they can’t have it.”

Then these students get hands-on experience in two dozen different departments in the hospital, from the bistro to the NICU.

“They have this whole support system that just wants to see them be successful in life,” said Meghan Daley, Project SEARCH program coordinator. “Honestly, I think it’s the confidence that comes out of this program for these individuals that is just beyond amazing.”

At the end of the program, Harmony Kaminski hopes to get a job at the hospital, like several former Project SEARCH interns at NCH.

“I attended the Project SEARCH program and was an intern in the central supply department,” said Marcos Ruiz. “They offered me a job, and I have been working here full-time for almost a year.”

“It was so deep that I found beautiful people to understand me and give me chances,” said Kervens Excellent.

“I wouldn’t be employed by the hospital at the moment if I didn’t have the opportunity to show what people with disabilities and whatever else are capable of doing,” said Caleb Caldwell.

Kaminski says being able to come and work at the hospital makes her happy, “because I get to do new things.”

Project SEARCH has no shortage of success stories. Tenfelde says one intern wouldn’t speak when he started the program. Her goal for him was to speak just five words by the end of the year, but after he finished the program, he was speaking fluently.

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