By Chevon T. Baccus APR
Executive Editor 

Lake Wales Medical Center Offers Job Training Internships for Students with Disabilities


Last updated 8/28/2019 at 1:42pm

Chevon Baccus

Project SEARCH Instructor Vincent Harris, left, and Jobs Coach Crystal Wooden, right, pose with the five Lake Wales Medical Center interns

Vincent Harris struggled in high school and took 10 years to earn his bachelor's degree. His own experience makes him even more committed to helping adult students with disabilities find meaningful employment after their nine-month internships at Lake Wales Medical Center.

As the Project SEARCH instructor, Harris shared his passion at a gathering Aug. 28 to kick off the program for students with disabilities, ages 18-22. The five students – four from Lake Wales High School and one from Victory Ridge Academy – began the program Aug. 12 with classroom instruction, followed by on-the-job experiences in the hospital's patient care, food service, facilities, finance and human resources departments. The students will complete three 10-week rotations doing complex jobs at the hospital, preparing for full-time jobs there or in the community.

Mayor Eugene Fultz thanked the program sponsors for "opening the doorways that lead to success" for the students. A former teacher of students with learning disabilities, Fultz said: "These students were the ones with heart. These were the students who wanted to succeed. These were the ones who had to be told 'You can succeed -- You are smart, you can accomplish anything you want. You can do anything you set your mind to do.' With some of those students it took a little longer but they accomplished many of the things they set in their hearts to accomplish."

Jascinth Lawrence with the Center for Independent Living said Project SEARCH is a proven, evidence-based program started in Cincinnati in 1996 that now serves students at 600 sites in 48 states and 10 countries. In the three years the Center has worked with the program, 90 percent have found full-time jobs. She said the goal is sustained employment, full-time jobs with benefits so these young people can support themselves and live independently. Lakeland Regional Medical Center was the first to adopt the program in Polk County, and now Lake Wales Medical Center has joined the initiative.

Hospital CEO Rebecca Brewer thanked the program's partners who have come together "to see that we put our best foot forward and give all of our citizens the best opportunity to shine and make the most of their God-given talents.

"I believe all of us are where we are at not because of some fluke of nature but because we are in a grand scheme that our Creator has put together and there are responsibilities for all of us. We have a responsibility to make sure that we create an environment where people can do the best at what they are created to do."

Wells Fargo District Manager Anson Jones presented a mock check for $16,000, representing the bank's sponsorship commitment. Jones said the bank supports diversity and inclusion through scholarships, education and employment programs. Jones said Wells Fargo nationwide employs more than 8,000 people who self-identify with some form of disability.

Lake Wales Medical Center business liaison Gregory Edwards said hospital supervisors have embraced the program and those not participating this year already are asking to be involved in the future.

"Everyone has been fully engaged in preparing these children because we say all the time 'we will not fail,' " Edwards said. "This is no sugar-coated training program. The students will be prepared for the future when they leave Lake Wales Medical Center."

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.

Chevon Baccus

Wells Fargo officials present mock check representing sponsor commitment to Center for Independent Living representatives

Each program partner serves a unique function. The Lake Wales Charter Schools and Victory Ridge Academy are providing instructors and recruiting appropriate students for the program. Lake Wales Medical Center provides a liaison to coordinate the program and offers a variety of internships that teach core skills of the business. The Center for Independent Living in Central Florida provides long-term retention and follow along for eligible individuals who receive a competitive job at the host business or in the community. The Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation provides individualized career counseling and guidance for eligible student participants along with vocational planning and support that may include job coaching and placement.


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