“Project SEARCH is a shining example of how we are working to advance health equity in our community”

Bronson Healthcare

Kalamazoo’s Project SEARCH program at Bronson Methodist Hospital has received international recognition for its collaborative work to better the lives of youth with disabilities in our community. The program was honored with the 2019 Spotlight on Transformative Collaboration Award from Project SEARCH. Bronson Methodist Hospital is one of 620 Project SEARCH sites across 49 states and 10 countries. The program is designed to help young adults with disabilities develop marketable skills for the workplace in order to obtain gainful employment. Students are immersed into the workings of Bronson through a yearlong internship. Interns work in a variety of departments, such as human resources, phlebotomy, food service, environmental services and more. Some of Bronson’s Project SEARCH interns also work at the Bronson Athletic Club in Oshtemo.

While the program is hosted at Bronson Methodist Hospital, Project SEARCH is a collaboration of several area organizations, including the Bureau of Services for Blind Persons, Disability Network of Southwest Michigan, Greenleaf Hospitality Group, Integrated Services of Kalamazoo (formerly Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services), Kalamazoo County school districts, Kalamazoo RESA and Michigan Rehabilitation Services. In addition to helping students develop essential skills for employment, the partner organizations work together to connect the interns to community resources to help them gain independence in areas like transportation and daily living skills.

“At Bronson, we know health goes beyond what happens in our exam rooms. We have to think about new mindsets, policies and interventions that allow all people to lead healthy lives,” said Beth Washington, vice president of community health, equity and inclusion for the Bronson Healthcare system. “Project SEARCH is a shining example of how we are working to advance health equity in our community.”

Project SEARCH at Bronson Methodist Hospital began seven years ago and has served 60 interns. “Fifty-two of those interns have found competitive employment, and as of today, more than 30 employers have hired Project SEARCH graduates,” said Adam Danapilis, principal of the Young Adult Program at Kalamazoo RESA.

Danapilis says the collaboration among the program’s stakeholders is what makes the Project SEARCH program in Kalamazoo so successful. “Our partner organizations come together around the same goal every year, which is finding competitive employment for our interns.” All of the interns from the 2018-2019 program year are currently employed.

George Richards is a recent graduate of Project SEARCH and has since been hired by Bronson Healthcare as a barista in the North Pavilion café. “I’m proud to be at Bronson because I help my fellow employees. I feel great working here,” he said. “My favorite part is the way I smile and that people smile back at me. That’s what I want to continue doing.”

For George’s mom, Grace Richards, Project SEARCH has been life changing. “As a parent of a child with special needs, you always wonder what’s out there for them once they graduate high school,” she said. “He got into the program and received all of the support and training he needed. He’s now employed at Bronson and absolutely loves it.”

Grace credits the program for how independent and confident George has become over the past year. George is even considering moving out on his own.

“I could have never imagined that George’s life was going to go this way,” she said, holding back tears. “When you receive that diagnosis when they are a small child, you’re always concerned about their wellbeing and future opportunities. Project SEARCH has been amazing for George.”

To learn more about Project SEARCH, visit www.bronsonhealth.com/projectsearch.

Pictured: Bronson and Kalamazoo RESA representatives with the award from Project SEARCH. Front row, from the left: Beth Washington, vice president of community health, equity and inclusion at Bronson; Adam Danapalis, principal of the Young Adult Program at Kalamazoo RESA. Back row, from the left: Mikka Dryer, inclusion coordinator at Bronson; Kelly Tucker, Project SEARCH skills trainer at Bronson; Jo Ann Hurst, Project SEARCH instructor at Bronson; and Kathy Hurley, transition coordinator for Kalamazoo RESA.