Charter System, Hospital Partner for Unique Training Program for Students with Disabilities


Last updated 6/19/2019 at 7:41pm

Rebecca Brewer, CEO, Lake Wales Medical Center

A new partnership between the Lake Wales Charter Schools system and other community stakeholders including Lake Wales Medical Center could truly be life changing for local students.

Along with Victory Ridge Academy, the Center for Independent Living in Central Florida, Inc., and Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, the entities are combining to launch Project SEARCH, a nine month immersive internship program for students with disabilities ages 18-22 years old.

This will be the second program site for Project SEARCH in Polk County, but the first site partnering with the charter school system. The program's timeline parallel's the school year and includes students with a variety of intellectual and developmental disabilities. All interns will participate in three rotations – each lasting 10 weeks – in order to acquire marketable and transferable job skills for obtaining competitive employment. Through these targeted internships, students gain experience that will enable them to apply for a similar position at the hospital or in the community.

In the the years CIL has worked with Project SEARCH, 90 percent of program participants have secured and maintained employment after graduation.

"We've always taken pride in our community involvement, and we are excited to have the opportunity to get involved with Project SEARCH," said Rebecca Brewer, CEO of Lake Wales Medical Center. "This allows us to help our community in a very real way, by partnering with the schools to help give these students real-world work experience so they can develop and refine their "soft skills" and be ready to be self-sufficient, productive members of the workforce when their training is complete."

Project SEARCH at Lake Wales Medical Center seeks to complement other statewide initiatives such as the Florida Unique Abilities Partnership launched by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity in late 2016. It operates on the philosophy that people

with disabilities have the right to choose a path toward education and employment. However, opportunities for young people with disabilities to gain experience are often limited.

The opportunities created through Project SEARCH will help prepare the students of today with the experience they need to succeed in the jobs of tomorrow. There are more than 600 Project SEARCH programs in 48 states and in 10 countries.

"We, all stakeholders, are so excited about this great opportunity for our students as well as the community," noted Beverly Riley, the high school's liaison to the program who was also assisted by Anna Barcenas, assistant principal of curriculum. "This partnership will help shape a brighter future for participating students, while inspiring other businesses to get involved in this successful model."

Funding for the program has been provided in part by Wells Fargo Bank and Harper Family Charitable Foundation. The new class will start on August 12.


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