GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) –  Giving people with disabilities a chance to shine in the workplace.  That’s the goal of Project SEARCH.

A team of six  Project SEARCH interns worked and learned at Aurora BayCare Medical Center this year. On Tuesday the healthcare group hosted a top tier graduation celebration as those participants took their achievements to the next level, graduating from Project SEARCH to head out into the workforce.

Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers and Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich were among the many distinguished guests who attended the ceremony.

“I love working in this hospital,” Pada told us then.  She was in her first rotation of the Project SEARCH program learning how to work in food service in the hospital cafeteria.

“I cut up broccoli and cauliflower, crepes, putting dips in these little cups and then serve food,” Pada told us, describing what her work entailed.

Six months later, Pada was walking up to the front of a crowded room to shake hands with the governor and her certificate of graduation.

“I’m so happy that I  graduated,” Pada said.

As a brand new graduate, Pada is already a part of the workforce.

“I’m going to work at Festival Foods,” Pada shared.  Her title?  Deli Clerk, putting the food service experience to good use.

In fact, four of the six interns graduating from the Project SEARCH program, like Pada, have already secured jobs.  

Marianna Parent will be working right where she interned, at Aurora BayCare.

“This has been so exciting for me and so I’m very proud,” she said. “I’m very proud.”

Project SEARCH highlights the employment potential of young adults with disabilities.  Through mentoring and training in areas such as food service, packaging, computer skills, the program  helps prepare individuals for employment,allowing the workforce to tap into a  vital resource.

“We definitely need to tap into every qualified talent pool that we have in the state,” explained Amy Pechacek, with Wisconsin’s Department of Workforce Development.  “That includes individuals with varying abilities who may need some accomodation or extra training to be able to enter the workforce.” 

Aurora BayCare president Thomas Miller says with all the pressures on healthcare workers in the past few years, having something positive to focus on, like Project SEARCH has been a breath of fresh air.   He also says the interns weren’t the only ones learning a thing or two.

“They also taught us to pause and smile, even though we were wearing masks,” Miller said.  “They taught us to just take a breath and know that we’re treating, not only our patients with compassion, but also each other and our team members as well.”

Pada knows how to take her work seriously and she encourages others to do the same.

“I like to teach my friends how to be good and not like be acting like a little kid and everything,” she explained.

But she also knows when it’s okay to bring a little levity into the work day; a lesson we could all use from time to time.

 “I like playing tricks on them,” Pada admitted with a grin. “Putting things on people’s chairs.”

Aurora BayCare is one of 25 participating sites around Wisconsin taking part in Project SEARCH with more than 180 young adults going through the program this year alone. Since its start in 2008, Project SEARCH has provided workforce training to nearly 1,500 Wisconsin residents.

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