Project SEARCH Launches At Lake Wales Medical Center
by James Coulter
Local students with developmental disabilities will soon be able to gain valuable vocational training at the Lake Wales Medical Center through the start of a new program.
Project SEARCH is a community collaboration program dedicated to helping people with developmental disabilities find and maintain employment within integrated settings.
Through this new program, local students with disabilities will be able to gain valuable work experience at Lake Wales Medical Center during ten-week rotations throughout the year.
Started in 1996 at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, this proven evidence-based program has grown its outreach into 600 sites over 48 states and 10 countries, helping people with disabilities gain valuable work and life skills through real-world experience.
“The point of project search is to integrate and sustain employment,” explained Jascinith Lawrence, a representative from the Center of Independent Living. “We want them to be working. We don’t want them to develop the need to be on public benefits. We want them to have 40-hour paid jobs with benefits so they can be independent adults.”
Rebecca Brewer, CEO of Lake Wales Medical Center, boasted about how the new program was one of many new developments occurring at the facility to help extend its outreach into the community. By midnight this Saturday, the Center will be changing ownership and becoming a part of the Advent Health System.
Brewer was especially excited about the launch of this new program, as it will allow local young people with developmental disabilities the opportunity to become the best people they were meant to be.
“I believe that all of us are where we are at, not because of some fluke of nature, but because we are in a grand scheme that our Creator has put together and there are responsibilities for all of us,” she said. “And we have responsibilities to make sure that we create an environment where people can do the best at what they are created to do.”
Project SEARCH was officially launched during a community breakfast hosted within the cafeteria of the Lake Wales Medical Center on Wednesday morning.
Attending the breakfast that morning were several representatives from the community, including the organizations sponsoring and collaborating with the program. These organizations include Victory Ridge Academy, Lake Wales High Vocational Rehabilitation, Project Ten, and Wells Fargo Bank.
Anson Johnson, District Manager of Wells Fargo Bank, was present that day to present a check for $16,000 to help finance the new program through the Center for Independent Living. Wells Fargo has been a big supporter of individuals with developmental disabilities, as the bank employs at least 4,000 employees nationwide with a self-identified disability, he said.
Mayor Eugene Fultz expressed his gratitude for the program taking root in their community. Such a development shows that their community provides a space where everyone can flourish regardless of who they are as individuals.
“To see something good like this taking place in Lake Wales, I love to preach it, I love to sell it, I love to tell it, everywhere I go, that Lake Wales is one of the best places that a person could possibly live,” he said. “Every opportunity afforded to anyone I think is springing up in Lake Wales, and this is one of them, a great opportunity.”
As a former educator who taught students, both abled and disabled, he especially appreciates how such a program offers opportunities for students who need them the most.
“Having taught many students and those with learning disabilities, I understand that this will be far-reaching for many of those students,” he said. “These are the students who wanted to succeed, these are the ones who had to be told you can succeed, because many have been told they are dumb…but I turned it around: I told them they are smart and you can accomplish anything that you want, you can do anything you set your mind to do…They accomplished many of the things they have set in their hearts to accomplish.”