Like many young adults, Briana Congo had her heart set on finding a job.
Because she has a cognitive disability, Congo was looking for an internship — hands-on experience that would give her an edge in a competitive job market.
She found it at Project SEARCH, a nine-month job-development internship for people age 18-21 with cognitive disabilities, including Down syndrome, autism and learning differences. As part of their high school transition, interns receive classroom instruction and complete three 10-week rotations in various departments at Christiana Care Health System.
“An internship is how I could get my foot in the door,” said Congo, 18, of Wilmington. “I loved my rotation in Materiel Management so much that I hated to leave them.” She won’t have to.
She applied for a job in the department and won it, based on her good work stocking and cleaning equipment.
Congo and five other interns received diplomas, encouragement and thanks at a graduation ceremony on June 8 at the John H. Ammon Educational Center in front of teachers, coaches, mentors, alumni and loved ones.
“Project SEARCH is a great example of The Christiana Care Way, serving our community through partnerships with others,” said Gary Ferguson, chief operating officer. “I am proud of our interns and how hard they have worked to learn this health system inside out.”
John Davis will soon start a job at Christiana Care as a patient escort. Other interns also are applying for jobs inside and outside the health system.
Hakeem Smalls performed so well in his rotation in Food and Nutrition that he was hired halfway through the program. “I am very good with trays,” he said.
Pamela Ridgeway, director, Talent Acquisition Strategy, said the interns showed impressive perseverance in completing their rotations.
“You were lost, scared and nervous. But you stayed and figured out how to make things work,” she said. “You had a positive impact on everyone who walks these halls.”
Christiana Care partnered with Red Clay Consolidated School District, the Delaware Department of Education, the state Division of Vocational Rehab, Autism Delaware and Community Integrated Services. In 2014, Project SEARCH Delaware received an award at the National Project SEARCH in recognition of its performance, noting that 77 percent of the 2012–2013 class obtained employment.
Participating work sites are: Cancer Care Management; Clinical Engineering; Environmental Services; Food and Nutrition; Materiel Management; Operating Room; Prep and Holding; Patient Escort; Patient Guide; Pharmacy; and Surgical Materials Distribution.