CEDAR RAPIDS — By her second day on the job, Samantha Dripps was already ahead of the game.
But technically, this week wasn’t Dripps’ first time working in linen services at UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s hospital. She spent a three-month internship there earlier this year as part of a program at St. Luke’s aimed at helping individuals like Dripps with a certain goal: find a job and keep it.
Dripps, 25, is one of the participants who completed a program this year called Project SEARCH, a locally adopted national program that offers young adults with disabilities the opportunity to find and maintain employment.
She, along with 10 other people, were recognized in a June 7 ceremony that marked the fifth group of graduates since the program was brought to Cedar Rapids.
“There has been that push for people to get out of shelters and workshops, and there are people out there who really want paid employment,” said Stephanie Beary, Project SEARCH skills instructor. “They want to contribute to society and get a paycheck just like everyone else.”
Project SEARCH was established in Cedar Rapids in 2014 through a partnership UnityPoint Health-St. Luke’s established with the Arc of East Central Iowa and Iowa Vocational Rehabilitation Services.
Using a combination of classroom instruction and workplace internships, the program teaches a dozen young adults the skills they need for employment, such as filling out job applications and learning interview techniques.
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Through Project SEARCH, Dripps had the opportunity to experience working in the hospital’s linen services before even applying for the job. Dripps — the first 2019 graduate to obtain a job — works in linen services 40 hours a week.
“I thought, ‘I liked this, I could see myself doing this,’ ” said Dripps, who said she has attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and a mild intellectual disability.
Dripps said she previously had a job at Our Little Haven day care in Marion.
Each year, 12 people are selected to participate in the nine-month program, which includes three weeks in the classroom and three 10-week worksite internships across the Cedar Rapids hospital system.
Of the 60 total participants in the past five years, 53 have graduated from the program.
Not counting the 10 graduates of the 2019 class, 32 Project SEARCH graduates were employed as of the end of May. An additional eight graduates were employed at some point after the program.
The initiative was first developed at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medicaid Center in Ohio in 1995 and has since grown to include “an international network of sites,” according to the Project SEARCH website.
The first Project SEARCH site in Iowa was located at UnityPoint Health-Methodist hospital in Des Moines and has grown to about a dozen sites across the state, including Waterloo, Davenport and Clinton in Eastern Iowa. St. Luke’s is the sole site in the Corridor, according to the website.
Beary said the skills each participant learns on the job is important, but she also emphasized the importance of independence and confidence for the Project SEARCH interns.
“The confidence-building part of the program is probably, to me, at least 75 percent of the success of the program because they need to be confident,” said Nancy Rife, special project facilitator at The Arc of East Central Iowa.
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