Program prepares disabled students for the workforce

You don’t need to remind intern Adam Jeeto of his job responsibilities once he clocks in at Holy Name Medical Center’s cafeteria.

“Come inside the kitchen, prep for an hour. Once I’m done, then I go to the front and serve employees in portions,” Jeeto said.

But the best part is that he loves it. Jeeto is part of Project Search, a high school transition internship program. For Jeeto, the placement in food services brings him a step closer to his dream job as a chef.

“Project Search is this really beautiful, blended, funded program that focuses on skill development for kids with developmental disabilities in their last year of high school focused exclusively on employment,” said Bergen County Workforce Development Board Executive Director Tammy Molinelli.

It began two years ago. Bergen County’s Workforce Development Board was the first in the country to try the initiative. Students come from all sending schools within the district and go through a series of skills assessments to qualify.

“About 17 to 21 kids have gone through the program. They’re split up between the two hospitals, Hackensack Hospital and Holy Name Hospital. That’s just about our sweet spot, about 10 kids within each program,” said Molinelli. “We put 88 percent of our students in permanent employment, so that’s a huge win across any demographic when it comes to employment. Eighty-eight percent is just a terrific, terrific placement number.”

Students work with a job coach and take an hour of training class every morning before they get to work. Jeeto’s already been hired full time once the yearlong internship expires.

“You have to put your mind to it, and be self-sufficient and be willing to help others,” Jeeto said.

“I see him in the cafeteria. I see him in the nursing units. I’ll see him in the hallways cleaning. There are times, I will tell you, I don’t even realize until after the fact that they are a student in Project Search. They are just someone who is working hard,” said Michael Maron, president and CEO of Holy Name Medical Center.

Tuesday, the newest graduates reflected on their experiences holding jobs in patient relations, nursing, the emergency room, and IT departments. Each said they feel ready for the workforce, made important friendships and learned valuable life lessons.

“Always be on time, no matter what,” said Chi-son Belcher, a student in the program.

The head of the project said the biggest challenge has been finding students. They need more schools and guidance counselors to take notice and send potential candidates their way.

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