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It is graduation season and many high school and college graduates are on the job hunt. In turn, Adelante is helping the graduates of Presbyterian Rust Medical Center’s Project SEARCH internship program to find competitive employment in our community.

Project SEARCH takes students with disabilities aged 18-22 and places them in internships in integrated work settings, lasting the course of a school year. Rust’s interns work alongside Presbyterian staff and patients around the hospital, and several Presbyterian employees volunteer to mentor the Project SEARCH interns.

The interns at Rust rotate through several different jobs, learning a variety of valuable skills.  Interns work in environmental services, food services, administration, OBGYN, podiatry, and Rust’s pharmacy. As they complete each rotation, they get to list all the skills they learned on their resume, better equipping them to gain competitive employment in the community.

Interns work on both hard skills, such as food preparation and administrative duties, and also soft skills such as business etiquette, public speaking, and interviewing.  Kris, a job coach with Adelante, mentioned that interns sometimes give presentations to other Rust employees, helping them gain confidence. “Some of our interns give environmental tours, lead fire drills, and give safety presentations during employee orientation, which is a huge help in public speaking.”

A Project SEARCH intern and his job coach, a woman, smile for the camera.
Adelante Job Coach Kris and Project SEARCH Intern Ryan work on food prep together.

Working in the community gives interns the opportunity to face and address real world challenges, too. Erika, a special education teacher from Rio Rancho Public Schools who is the instructor for Project SEARCH, says, “Things happen on the job; [interns] fail. Life’s not perfect. How do we improve it? What do we do to change it? Let’s be proactive. I think that is an amazing skill that they’ve learned here.”

One Project SEARCH intern, Jessika, shared what she learned working Rust saying, “Work hard, keep [your work] fast and accurate, and just never give up on it.”

Six project search interns take a picture with three members of Project SEARCH's Business Advisory Council. One intern is holding a poster that reads "DON'T EVER GIVE UP."
Interns learn the finer points of business etiquette, like effective job interviewing, from Project SEARCH’s Business Advisory Council.

Both Kris and Erika, the job coach and teacher who work together on Project SEARCH, agree that some of the most important accomplishments involve the social skills interns learn while working with the public. “The interns come in and say ‘I don’t like working with the public,’ then by the end of the year, they all want jobs working with the public,” said Erika. Though interns often have to leave their comfort zone, it is a great way to grow, and they still have a safe space to come back to —Erika, Kris, and the other Project SEARCH staff.

All of these skills will help because these interns have high aspirations. “I might want to have my own dance studio in the future,” said David, one of this year’s interns. 

Beyond job coaching onsite at Rust, Adelante is tasked with helping interns find jobs in the community. According to Kris, the job coach, 5 of this year’s 7 interns have found community employment.

Project SEARCH Intern Arlene works on administrative duties.

With its current success, Project SEARCH continues to grow and gain support, as well. “The community has been excellent in being open to hiring adults with disabilities, but I think we need to reach more businesses that would be willing to employ interns before or once they graduate,” says Erika.

If you know a high school student between the ages of 18-22 who could benefit from Project SEARCH, or a person with a disability who would like support in seeking competitive employment in the community, call (505) 341-2000 or email ExplorePrograms@GoAdelante.org .

If you would like to hire a Project SEARCH graduate, or someone with a disability, visit https://goadelante.org/disability-services/employment-options/#Hire.

Adelante greatly appreciates the community partners that work alongside our organization to make Project SEARCH a success for Rio Rancho students: Presbyterian Rust Medical Center, Rio Rancho Public Schools, UNM’s Center for Development and Disability, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital, the New Mexico Department of Health, and the New Mexico Department for Vocational Rehabilitation.