Real world, real success
In collaboration with Hutton House and Thames Valley District School Board, St. Joseph’s Health Care London is providing valuable work experience to students with disabilities.
Twenty-year-old high school student Jeuel Alpuerto prepares a load of dishes to be sanitized in the kitchen area of St. Joseph’s Health Care London’s Parkwood Institute. He has a passion for both helping and cooking.
“I make a great omelet,” says Jeuel with a smile.
Jeuel is participating in Project SEARCH, a 10-month internship program that helps youth with intellectual and developmental disabilities find meaningful employment. The school-to-work training program involves collaboration with organizations, including health care, to establish internships that prepare young adults for the working world.
In partnership with Hutton House and Thames Valley District School Board, St. Joseph’s is a host organization for the program, currently providing seven individuals with internships in various programs and services at Parkwood Institute. Developed at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center in 1996, Project SEARCH has since expanded worldwide and has several participating sites in Canada. St. Joseph’s launched its first year of the project in September 2022.
“The students who intern at St. Joseph’s are in their last year of high school and are using this time to gain skills necessary to transition to employment,” explains Susan Vuylsteke, St. Joseph’s Project SEARCH business liaison. “The goal for the students is ultimately to find competitive employment after graduation.”
Each intern completes a series of three, 10-week internships that provide an opportunity to explore career options and develop a variety of job skills. Hutton House, a registered charity that helps individuals with disabilities, provides employment planning and support to the interns. A skills trainer from the organization also helps the students at Parkwood Institute as they learn new tasks and routines.
Jeuel completed his first internship in Food and Nutrition Services (FNS) at St. Joseph’s. From sanitizing dishes, loading carts and preparing meal trays, he is learning valuable skills that will help with job employment in the future.
“It’s been great to have Jeuel intern in our programs," says Barb Adams, FNS Coordinator, “The experience also gives our staff an opportunity to serve as mentors, think outside the box and embrace inclusivity. All staff involved have welcomed this new partnership.”
Tracy Couture, Project Search instructor with Thames Valley District School Board, also works with the students at St. Joseph’s, providing orientation and hands-on learning in a classroom setting that includes resume writing, interview tips and communication skills.
“The interns begin their day learning employability skills in a classroom,” says Tracy. “They then spend time within St. Joseph’s programs where they learn practical and social skills such as teamwork, following instructions and time management.”
In the clothing store at Parkwood Institute Mental Health Care Building, Billy, who chose not to use his last name, is learning the ropes of a retail outlet. The shop acquires donated clothing, footwear and other items from the community, which are then made available to inpatients of the mental health programs. From washing clothing, sorting inventory and helping patients choose their items, Billy is immersed in hands-on experience that is setting him up for success upon graduation.
“I like helping people find their clothing size,” says the 18-year-old. ‘It’s nice to talk with people and there is always a lot of work to do here.”
After their internships, Jeuel and Billy will graduate high school and begin their job search. Staff at Hutton House work with the students to craft resumes, prepare for job interviews and find meaningful employment.
Billy hopes to one day work at Budweiser Gardens but is keeping his options open. Jeuel is dreaming of a future working in a restaurant or as a chef in a kitchen.
“It’s hard work, but it’s really exciting,” says Jeuel.
For St. Joseph’s staff, it’s gratifying to watch the students grow and learn, says Susan.
“It’s an honour to be involved in a program that has such a positive impact on the interns’ lives and to raise awareness of the value they bring to workplaces."