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Project SEARCH Helps Young Adults With Special Needs Find Jobs, Independence

Kaiser Permanente South Bay celebrates Autism Awareness Month by highlighting the contributions of interns and employees with developmental disabilities

April 4, 2017



Group of disabled students The 2016-17 class of Project SEARCH interns at Kaiser Permanente South Bay Medical Center.

HARBOR CITY, Calif. — Securing employment after graduation is a concern for every young adult. But for students with special needs, the challenge can feel insurmountable. An estimated 84 percent of adults with developmental disabilities do not have a paid job. Project SEARCH, a high school transition program, is changing that with a unique, one year, school-to-work experience program that takes place entirely at a host workplace. And for the sixth year, Kaiser Permanente South Bay Medical Center is an active partner, helping students with special needs learn the skills they’ll need to get ahead in the workplace.

In partnership with Best Buddies, the Los Angeles Unified School District and the Harbor Regional Center, Kaiser Permanente South Bay Medical Center provides Project SEARCH students with three 10-week rotations through different hospital departments, including pharmacy, food services, administration and materials management. Teamed with a job coach, students learn valuable skills: from navigating public transportation so that they can reliably get to work on time, to learning how to professionally communicate with customers and colleagues.

“Time and again we see that young people with autism and other developmental disabilities are capable of so much more than our preconceived notions might lead us to believe,” said Lesley Wille, RN, senior vice president and area manager of Kaiser Permanente South Bay Medical Center. “Several past graduates of Project SEARCH have been hired as Kaiser Permanente employees and it is inspiring to see how much pride they take in their work. I would encourage every employer to think about ways to bring these young people into their organization.”

Among those interning with Kaiser Permanente as part of the Project SEARCH program:

  • Leticia, a 21-year-old intern from Wilmington (California) who is on the autism spectrum, hopes to work in an office after graduating in June. “Project SEARCH has shown me how to get a job, and how to dress and speak in interviews,” says Leticia. “My favorite internship has been in the Maternal and Child Health department, where I could file, type documents and help my co-workers.”
  • Humberto, a 21-year-old from Carson (California) who is also on the autism spectrum, is currently interning in the pharmacy and lab. He says that Project SEARCH “helps people learn responsibility” so that they can be more independent. Like many of the interns, Alex is excited by the idea of securing employment after graduation so that he can help his mother, who has been a wonderful support to him.

To date, 80 percent of graduates from the South Bay Project SEARCH program have found jobs. Of this year’s nine original interns, two have already secured employment at local businesses. Recently, the program expanded to the Kaiser Permanente West Los Angeles and Los Angeles medical centers, making this internship opportunity available to even more students with special needs in the Los Angeles area.

In honor of Autism Awareness Month, Kaiser Permanente South Bay will highlight the contributions of Project SEARCH interns and alumni throughout April. In addition to hosting tours of the program for community leaders, interns will be featured on the medical center’s social media platforms and internal communication channels.

About Kaiser Permanente
Kaiser Permanente is committed to helping shape the future of health care. We are recognized as one of America’s leading health care providers and not-for-profit health plans. Founded in 1945, our mission is to provide high-quality, affordable health care services and to improve the health of our members and the communities we serve. We currently serve more than 11.3 million members in eight states and the District of Columbia. Care for members and patients is focused on their total health and guided by their personal physicians, specialists and team of caregivers. Our expert and caring medical teams are empowered and supported by industry-leading technology advances and tools for health promotion, disease prevention, state-of-the-art care delivery and world-class chronic disease management. Kaiser Permanente is dedicated to care innovations, clinical research, health education and the support of community health. For more information, go to: kp.org/share.