Young Adults with Disabilities Graduate from First Career Training Internship Program at UConn Health

June 6, 2016

Article from UConn Today

For seven hardworking and devoted interns June 1st was their big day as they graduated from a one-year career training internship program at UConn Health called Project SEARCH. This program is geared toward young adults with disabilities to demonstrate their potential for future employment.

At UConn Health these interns rotated through eight clinical and hospital departments such as cardiology, dermatology, nutrition services and others to gain valuable work experience under the guidance of dedicated UConn Health staff mentors. The goal of Project SEARCH is to help these young adults live more independently, train for careers, gain employment skills, and jobs.

The graduation ceremony was festively kicked-off with a surprise visit by UConn’s mascot Jonathan.

“I’ve been blessed with this project and to be part of their success,” said Rosie Wright, education and development specialist in the Department of Human Resources who works closely with the interns to coordinate their internship experience.

“Along the way I grew and realized I can accomplish my goal. I can make my dream and future count,” said Selina Felix, Project SEARCH graduate. “Knowing that you have mentors help you along the way, I realized it made me more confident. I realized I can strive for greatness. Overall I have become independent and strong.”

Another graduate, Alexa Lotufo spoke about her new accomplishment and how Project SEARCH has helped her conquer her goals. “I am really happy I found this program. It has helped me improve myself for the better. I am going to miss working here but I am happy to try something new.”

Dr. Andrew Agwunobi, UConn Health’s chief executive officer and executive vice president for health affairs shared his congratulations with the interns saying, “For me personally, this is the best part of my day and week. I want to personally thank the interns for what you have done for us. The success you see today is because of the departmental mentors. This shows the caring spirit of UConn Health as they have taken these interns under their wing. You the graduates have inspired us. Your impact on UConn Health is immeasurable.”

UConn Health was the first host site in Connecticut for Project SEARCH. The program is powered by Favarh, a chapter of Arc – a worldwide organization that supports people with disabilities.

“I knew we had to start one in Connecticut,” said Steve Morris, executive director of Favarh. “The biggest challenging aspect was finding a host site, but we found that UConn Health would be the perfect host site.”

Three of the seven graduating interns have already been hired by a few companies including UConn Health where graduate Kirsten Saraceno is now working in the Department of Facilities.

“Project SEARCH has taught me a lot,” shared Stephen Gurski, a graduate. “It helped me to be a hard worker. It has helped me plan a career and be on my own.”

During the graduation ceremony AT&T presented a generous check for $10,000 dollars to donate to Project SEARCH. “We are very happy State Senator Kevin Witkos contacted AT&T. It is incredibly impressive, and obviously a quality program,” said Abby Jewett, regional vice president at AT&T.
State Senator Witkos shared his comments on the Project SEARCH graduation, “It was excellent and to me this program shows there is something for everyone. This is money well spent. The interns made just as much of an impact as mentors did on them.”

Sandra Finnimore, Favarh’s Project SEARCH site instructor at UConn Health shared with the mentors and the family members of the interns, “Words cannot express how grateful we are of you, and they cannot express how grateful the interns are of you as well.”

“At Project SEARCH I have grown a lot. Project SEARCH makes me feel special,” shared Mary Mathis, a graduate.

“This program has become Connecticut’s first truly successful Project SEARCH program. We need to do a lot more of this in Connecticut. We need to have one in every district,” said State Rep. John Hampton of Simsbury who was instrumental in facilitating Project SEARCH coming to UConn Health. “UConn Health can be an example for all the other programs we want to get started. Our seven interns have a lot to be proud of.”

State Rep. Mike Demicco from Farmington shared, “It is really gratifying. You see a lot of people talking about making a more inclusive society. Here they are actually doing something about making it a more inclusive society. I am happy to be a part of it.”