Haley McCormick-Thompson, 21, spends part of her day transporting senior residents of the United Hebrew from their rooms to their various activities throughout the day. The seniors’ faces light up when they see Haley coming over to help them.
“I really care about the residents,” Haley said. “I like helping them if they’re sad and I like staying late and helping. I am always willing to do extra.”
Haley is a part of Project SEARCH, a program that allows young adults with developmental disabilities to cultivate a set of skills that they can use in the workforce. At United Hebrew, located in New Rochelle, New York, Project SEARCH interns assist the residents in their daily lives. The harmony between the residents and the interns is clear. The interns take their time with each resident, making sure they are comfortable, getting them involved in cheerful sing-alongs, partaking and setting up art therapy, transporting them to and from their daily activities, and lending an attentive ear to residents who just feel like talking.
“With the Project SEARCH interns here, the morale of United Hebrew increases immensely,” said Donna Masi, lead teacher of Project SEARCH at the facility. “They bring extra joy and love to the clients at United Hebrew.”
While the SEARCH interns are reaping fantastic results at their numerous locations, the services they provide at United Hebrew are nothing short of special. Many older residents living in assisted living facilities are simply looking for extra care – a smile, or someone to listen to them. United Hebrew is a not-for-profit multi-service senior living campus nestled on 7.4 acres in New Rochelle. It is known for its caring and nurturing environment. It provides state-of-the-art rehabilitation equipment, intimate dinners for residents and their families and many other services. Residents play instruments in music therapy programs and garden in the courtyard. Project SEARCH interns make all of these programs go.
Participation in the internship provides employers with free labor as the interns are compensated with real life work-experience they can take with them into the competitive employment market. These employers get a first-hand view of the talent available to hire from a group they may not have originally considered. But of the 2,700 young adults with disabilities going through Project SEARCH across America today, more than 60 percent will get and retain paid work. That will, on average, save taxpayers at least $300,000 per adult with a disability who otherwise would live on government benefits. It also dramatically improves the quality of life of the person with disabilities, as most people with disabilities want to work and be included in the community.
“These interns are great at their jobs,” said Masi. “We are going back to a workforce that can be relied on. By hiring these interns, you’ll find that your absentee rate will decrease, they will be punctual, and they will do their upmost best to perform the task given. It is what America needs.”
As the baby boom ages there will be shortages of workers to take care of American senior citizens. The solution to this labor shortage is already in our communities – talented people with disabilities who are compassionate, responsible and who want to make a positive difference.
Under the hashtag #RespectTheAbility, POSTIVE EXPOSURE and RespectAbilityUSA hope to spread the word about Project SEARCH, and the new candidate pool they and other programs that give real life work experiences and supports for young workers with disabilities are cultivating for permanent employment. #RespectTheAbility is a campaign that focuses on how hiring people with disabilities can make organizations stronger and more successful. The campaign highlights the benefits to employers that look beyond the disability and imagine the possibility when hiring talented employees with disabilities.