Two hospitals and a county board have come together to aid one of the most underserved populations in the state: young adults with developmental disabilities.
Project SEARCH is a new partnership between Bergen County, Hackensack University Medical Center and Holy Name Medical Center to help train 20-year-olds with disabilities with the skills they need to work any job they want.
“We know how challenging the post-21 landscape is. When students turn 21 and age out of the school system we know the difficulty that families face in preparing their loved ones for life after graduation,” said Bergen County Executive James J. Tedesco. “This program will open doors and expand the range of possibilities for both students and employers.
This approach is different from the current and popular model of finding jobs that individuals can adapt to, and allows them to work among their peers in a group setting.
“This is not a job-based training, but is a skill-based training,” said Jared Lautz, spokesman for the Bergen County board. “This is about changing the culture. Not about finding something someone who is disabled can do, it’s about finding a job to fit their abilities.”
Currently, the students have not been chosen yet. Applications should be going out in the next few weeks and the students will be chosen in time for the new school year in September. Twenty-four students will been chosen from Bergen County through the school board, which already has the per pupil cost in its budget, Lautz said.
“Students will attend the program in one of the host hospitals for a full school year, initially undergoing employee orientation and skill assessment, and developing a career plan which guides the process. Throughout the school year they will receive an employment skills classroom curriculum, combined with several internship experiences at the host business focused on developing competitive and marketable skills in their targeted fields,” according to a statement.
The county allocated $30,000 to cover some costs and implement the project, and the hospitals are offering an in-kind contributions for the training. In addition, the New Jersey Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services is offering a second job coach to help along the way.
“Everyone has skin in the game and it’s all braided together. So it’s not expensive,” Lautz said.
The goal is to expand this in the future and include more students, a spokeswoman for Holy Name said.
The job training model was first developed in 1996 by the Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center.
Statistics show that state-wide, the employment rate for individuals with disabilities is less than 40 percent, while Project SEARCH boasts a 73 percent employment rate, according to a statement from Bergen County.
“While the goal is competitive employment for each of the participants, one of the most important side effects is the long-term change in business culture that has far-reaching positive effects about hiring people with disabilities and expanding the vision for the range of jobs in which they can be successful,” said Freeholder Vice Chairwoman Tracy Zur. “This puts the emphasis on someone’s abilities rather than their disabilities. As two of the largest employers in the county take this step, Holy Name and HackensackUMC are really recognizing the tremendous contributions that people with different abilities can make. This is not charity — it is good business.”