MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital kicked off its first day of Project SEARCH on Tuesday morning.
The program allows seven high school seniors with mild to moderate special needs to work in different areas of the hospital, instead of going to their final year of school. According to Tracy Jackson, the program instructor, the students would work in a variety of departments at the hospital.
“The students will complete three different rotations in their year with us here at the hospital,” Jackson said. “We actually, I believe, have 24 departments onboard to host our students, so they could be doing anything from transport, security, we have EVS, nutrition, nursing floors. We have a very huge variety of things that they could be doing. The goal is for them to get transferable skills that they can take with them into their communities and find work or become employed here at the hospital.”
To mitigate the risk of COVID-19, Jackson said, all students went through an employee health screen before starting the program, the same process as all other employees at Ruby. In addition, the hospital is ensuring that everyone has proper personal protective equipment for the roles they will be fulfilling.
Whitney Rae Hatcher, the business liaison for Project SEARCH, said this is the first time the program is happening in West Virginia. She added that it is an international program in 10 countries with roughly 600 different versions in the U.S. Hatcher said the program is important and would not be possible without business sponsors.
“We’re just really excited to partner up with all the different agencies,” Hatcher said. “There are 14 different agencies that are around Morgantown and North Central West Virginia and even a couple that aren’t in West Virginia that have provided grant money for different things to get the program off the ground. We’re just really excited that we can be a community partner with all these other agencies to make sure these students have the opportunity for competitive employment.”
Both Jackson and Hatcher said the goal is to have the program be an annual one that goes on for a long time. They added that the first day was successful.
“We had an amazing day and I feel like we can have success with this program for many years to come,” Jackson said.