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Project SEARCH: A WMC Partnership to Help Area Youth Get Workforce-Ready

Project SEARCH: A WMC Partnership to Help Area Youth Get Workforce-Ready

Excited, enthusiastic and slightly apprehensive are the words that describe the twelve students enrolled in the newest cohort of Project Search at Winchester Medical Center (WMC). Thanks to a collaboration between Valley Health, Frederick County and Winchester City Public Schools, and NW Works, these young adults with developmental challenges will spend the next ten months working alongside Valley Health staff, learning valuable employment skills, and getting workforce-ready.

“I am really looking forward to trying things I haven’t done before,” said Madelyn Walters, a new graduate of Sherando High School, who is hoping to get experience in the kitchen at WMC. “I have been baking bread, cakes and cupcakes for a few years, and would like to find a job where I can bake … but also want to try new jobs in other parts [of WMC].”

The Project Search Class of 2020-21 is the fourth cohort of students to train at Valley Health. The students complete three rotations through different WMC departments each year and Project Search staff are especially appreciative of the mentorship provided from WMC team members.

“We are so grateful that the WMC team is so generous with their time, working with these kids,” notes Joey Dunlap, Project Search job coach from NW Works. “We turn them over to you guys, and you love on them, train them and grow them into adults.”

Photo of students

Madelyn Walters and Elijah Stine practice their “smize” (smiling with their eyes) in the Project Search classroom. 

The partnership has a great track record in training and then placing the graduates in positions around the region. “Of the students in the first two classes, 72 and 100 percent of the young adults are now employed,” states Chuck Ashby, site coordinator for Project Search at WMC. “Fifty percent of the kids who graduated in cohort #3 over the summer are now employed. The others have not found positions yet, but because of the unusual circumstances with COVID, it may take them a little longer.”

Ashby has shared how, like a real parent, he’s proud — yet anxious — when sending “his kids” out in to the real world after graduation. But he’s not the only one who gets nervous: Handley High School student Elijah Stine says it’s easy to lose your way in the labyrinth of halls at WMC. “It’s a relief that Chuck and Joey are just a text away,” he notes. “When I get lost around the hospital, they get me the directions I need to get back to the classroom.”

Stine is hoping he gets a job with the Army in the future. “I’m going to work up to my best standards, and since both my grandfathers served, the Army is my dream job.”

Although the Project Search staff work closely with the students, day in and day out, they are quick to point out that without the support of the entire Valley Health team, the Project Search youth would miss out on invaluable experiences and the new friendships they make at the hospital.

Adds Ashby, “[WMC President] Skip Philips has been our biggest supporter right from the start, and we thank him, and everyone else on your team, for partnering with us on these experiences that change lives and make our community better.”

Project Search is one of a number of Valley Health community partnerships. Click here to learn about the many ways our team collaborates with local agencies and organizations to Serve Our Community by Improving Health.