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Program helps uncover students talents
Disabled youth interned with health system
Derek Scott White is congratulated Thursday afternoon by Kathy Woody-Deming during the Project SEARCH graduation at the Northeast Georgia Medical Center’s Walters Auditorium. Six candidates received their certificate of completion.

The first six graduates of Hall County schools’ Project SEARCH program were recognized Thursday for their completion of a 27-week internship program.

Northeast Georgia Health System Inc. partnered with Hall County schools and Georgia Vocational Rehabilitation Services to provide internships for disabled high school seniors or recent graduates. The program was established this past fall as a transitional program to ease high school students into the working world.

Tina Walden, director of work force planning and employment for Northeast Georgia Health System, joined forces with the program’s Hall County schools liaison Susan Wright. Walden said she was glad to partner with Wright on Project SEARCH.

"Any time we can partner with our educators to help students maximize their talents, it can be used out in the community for them to be successful citizens," Walden said.

Wright said she visited a hospital in Cincinnati where Project SEARCH was created. She then took local educators and vocational rehabilitation workers to the Ohio hospital which served as the model for the new Hall County program.

Paula Phillips, director of Rehabilitation Industries Northeast Georgia, said internships students had at the hospital such as filing papers, assisting patients and serving meals lay the foundation for them to become independent working citizens of the community.

"Now our students are more prepared to go into that world of work that we all enter after school," Phillips said. "Now they can say, ‘I have experience working in several
departments in the hospital.’"

Perla Rodriguez, a graduate of East Hall High School and Project SEARCH participant, called the program an "awesome experience."

"I like helping people, that’s the thing. It’s always been my dream to work in the medical field," she said. "This helps a lot of us step into the real world."

Rodriguez said she hopes to find a job in a hospital, and already has had an interview for an emergency room patient care technician position at Northeast Georgia Medical Center.

"The hospital is staying true to their word and if they have openings, the interns are being considered for the jobs," Wright said.

Colleen Pirkle served as the Project SEARCH instructor and said 10 students representing all Hall County high schools are registered to participate in Project SEARCH next year.

Pirkle said the program was a great success in its first year. She said the internships helped several students to come out of their shell and discover their talents.

"World, look out, because these are some awesome individuals who are going to bring joy to every life they touch," she said.

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