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Set for Success: Bright Future Awaits First Project Search Grads

Set for Success: Bright Future Awaits First Project Search Grads

“Welcome to the Valley Health family!” Those were the words that greeted 12 Project Search interns who arrived on the Winchester Medical Center (WMC) campus last August to begin a year of training and mentorship. This one-year school-to-work program, established through a partnership between Valley Health, Winchester City and Frederick County public schools, NW Works and DARS (Virginia Division of Aging and Rehabilitative Services), would offer new experiences for these developmentally challenged young adults, who nervously awaited their assignments and anxiously eyed their new coworkers during the orientation session.

Fast forward 10 months….

There were only a few nerves on display, and many more smiles and cheers, as this happy group participated in Valley Health’s first Project Search graduation on June 1. The local students had much to celebrate: they had each successfully completed coursework on job-seeking and employment etiquette and three training rotations in WMC departments….AND most importantly, eight of the 11 grads had already been offered jobs!

[View the gallery of photos from 2018 Project SEARCH at Winchester Medical Center]

Project Search offers youth with developmental disabilities an opportunity to learn work skills, build confidence, and prepare for employment upon graduation. As they rotated through hospital departments, gaining valuable hands-on work experience, the students also learned about workplace safety, job search and interviewing, money management, and other life skills from the Project Search staff, Chuck Ashby, Pam Brannon and Joey Dunlap.

Colton Whittington, one of the grads, claims that Project Search coaching helped him land his first job: “Joey helped me get ready for my job interview and told me to make a good first impression by looking professional with my hair combed, and to tuck in my shirt and shave. And he reminded me to give a firm handshake. No limp fish handshakes allowed!”

“We appreciate the great support from Mark Merrill, Skip Philips, Tiffanie Green, Cat Kelley and the entire Winchester Medical Center staff,” exclaimed Ashby, Project Search Site Director. “Dozens of employees worked with our students, patiently training and coaching them, and most importantly, helping them gain the confidence they need to be successful in the future. And we are especially excited because Valley Health has invited us back for another year, so more local students will benefit from this life-changing experience.”

In addition to presenting the excited graduates with a Project Search diploma, Ashby recognized all the WMC department staff who had supported the students throughout the year. He thanked staff from the following departments who worked – and became friends –with these wonderful and hard-working young adults: Biomed, Central Supply, ED and ED Observation, Environmental Services, Facilities, Gift Shop, Heart and Vascular, Human Resources, Lab, Marketing/Media Services, Nutrition Services, Pharmacy and Sterile Processing.

But it was not only the Project Search students who learned from this collaboration. “This program offers hope to these students and the community,” Valley Health Senior VP and President of WMC Grady W. (Skip) Philips, III, noted when addressing the students and their families during the graduation ceremony. “Those on the Valley Health team also benefited from the program. They learned about the value of inclusivity and witnessed the pride of accomplishment exhibited by these students as they mastered new skills each day.”

Valley Health congratulates all the Project Search graduates…and wishes them continued success as they begin their next chapter!