Project SEARCH to complete first year in Bartow County
by Mark Andrews
Apr 03, 2014 | 1382 views | 0 0 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Project SEARCH student Alan Harris listens to instructions from Lauren Waits, StoryCorps facilitator, before recording begins at the Cartersville Medical Center. Photographs are prohibited during recordings. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
Project SEARCH student Alan Harris listens to instructions from Lauren Waits, StoryCorps facilitator, before recording begins at the Cartersville Medical Center. Photographs are prohibited during recordings. SKIP BUTLER/The Daily Tribune News
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Nearing its first year in Bartow County, Project SEARCH, an internship program and partnership between Cartersville Medical Center and the Bartow County School System, will soon have a place in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C., thanks to a visit Wednesday by the nonprofit StoryCorps, whose mission is to record, share and preserve the stories of individuals.

“We are different from a traditional oral historian because we really support the conversation the two participants are having; we don’t so much interview, guide, or lead,” StoryCorps Facilitator Lauren Waits, who recorded a conversation between an intern, Alan Harris and a CMC employee, perioperative educator Kristi Plank, said. “We make sure folks get really good quality sound, we burn broadcast quality CDs and we take notes for the Library of Congress. The other important part of our partnership is we are contributing these recordings to the Library of Congress once the participants give us permission at the end of the conversation.”

She said the organization has recorded more than 50,000 conversations since its inception in 2003.

Project SEARCH instructor Kristy Mitchell said the internship program, which began in August 2013, places students with significant disabilities in various roles at CMC, allowing them to hone employable skills and interests for when they complete the program. She said Bartow County students receive school credit for the internship and can participate in the program through age 22.

“We have students with autism, students with disabilities, students that are speech only — so no physical impairments or anything like that,” Mitchell said. “The hospital has been really good to us because they’ve let us decide where their strengths are, what their abilities are and what positions they can be in, so we can work with somebody who has autism who is very literal and put them in daily recovery and surgery and they make sure that the equipment is sanitized ... — they’ve been really good with that.”

Alan Harris, a 2013 graduate of Cass High School, has high-functioning autism and is an intern with Project SEARCH.

“I try to best explain [high-functioning autism] in my way as ... its side effects have affected me in a very big way when I was much younger, but it also gives me the ability to work through all of it more than other people,” Harris said.

Harris, who works in Environmental Services, described a typical day at CMC: “Every morning when I come in for work I sign in at the time I get there — every morning you have to be here at 8 o’clock and then I go to my Yahoo! account, check my emails to see if anybody has sent me something. We’ll talk about what you’ll do on your job and general skills you’ll need to be a good employee. .. I’ll talk to a supervisor about what I’m going to do for the day ..., he’ll set me up with one of our custodians. ... We’re there from 8 to 10 [a.m.], we go to lunch around 11 [a.m.] or 12 [p.m.] depending on what time your department goes to lunch and then we come back to the classroom about 2 o’clock.”

He continued, “Some of the stuff I have to do is housekeeping, taking out people’s garbage, I’ll pull linens, dirty towels ... it’s pretty good.”

Harris said he feels the internship will help him with future career endeavors.

“It helps me learn lots of more job skills and how to be a better employee,” Harris said.

Thus far, Mitchell said, the program has been a success.

“We started in August and we’ll go through the whole school year through May. We started out with nine interns, we have five hired already and our last four are still applying and we’re doing those connections with businesses to try and get them hired,” Mitchell said. “They’ve each been now in three different departments; the first one we placed, the second one we kind of directed them and then by the third one, they were able to identify their interest and skills and they pretty much picked the department they wanted to go into.”

Plank said she has appreciated the work of interns in the Project SEARCH program.

“For us we had [Harris] clean the pre-op rooms between patients, make sure everything was wiped down, new sheets on the stretchers, so when the next patient walked in everything was clean and organized and the trash was picked up and everything,” Plank said. “He did a meticulous job — probably cleaner than we could have done it ourselves.”

Mitchell said Project SEARCH currently is recruiting businesses interested in providing work opportunities to completers of the program. For more information, call 770-324-9834.