Bon Secours St. Francis Health System has announced the expansion of its Project SEARCH program, providing more internship opportunities to students with disabilities than ever before. 

Since debuting the program in 2017, every class has included eight to ten students from area schools who get the opportunity for real life work experience to help them prepare for and find fulfilling and productive jobs after high school. With this new expansion, the program has the ability to double its capacity to 20 interns. 

“The social impact of this program within the Greenville community has been tremendous, and we believe we have a perfect combination of skillset, education, and opportunity to help it grow and flourish,” said Bon Secours St. Francis Market President Matt Caldwell. “We want to continue inspiring and partnering with the local business community to build a world-class workforce where people are valued for their skills and talents but also appreciated for their uniqueness.”

More students mean a need for more space. So, with the help of the St. Francis Foundation and the generosity of community donors, the health system has renovated existing office space to provide a world-class, interactive classroom learning environment – The Joseph J. Pazdan Project SEARCH Center. It will provide additional space for classroom instruction along with training rooms, designed to reflect patient care areas, where interns can practice their skillsets. 

“We know that student success doesn’t end with high school graduation. It means being prepared for life after high school. Through Project SEARCH, we’re empowering these young adults to make that successful transition by teaching them relevant, marketable skills,” said Cheryl Johnson, the Project SEARCH Workforce Coordinator. “Beyond that, they’re allowed to experience that independence while being part of a community. So, the program isn’t just impacting the lives of our interns but also that of the health care staff. Many departments beg to keep their interns beyond the span of their rotation, which sometimes even results in an intern being hired by the hospital.” 
The expanded space will also include a new locker room for the interns, a new break room, an ADA restroom, and a conference room. It will also house the Project SEARCH Store – an intern-led operation that promotes sustainability by keeping track of excess office supplies that hospital staff can request as opposed to ordering brand new.

Together with the Greenville County School District and South Carolina Vocational Rehabilitation, the Project SEARCH program at Bon Secours St. Francis provides hands-on training and school-required academics. This is done both virtually and in real-time, providing the best educational opportunities for interns. 

“One of the most difficult questions for any parent with a child on a disability spectrum is, “What will happen to my child when I am no longer able to care for them?”. This program gives them hope by bridging the gap between school and work and providing an opportunity for gainful and competitive employment,” said Dr. Alex Garvey, Vice President of Mission at Bon Secours St. Francis. 

The employment rate for all Project SEARCH sites in the United States was 55% for 2019-2020 interns. Bon Secours St. Francis outperformed that with 80% of its class becoming employed upon graduation, and 100% of the health system’s most recent graduating class is currently employed as well.