Only 19.1% of individuals with disabilities were employed in 2020, according to the U.S. Department of Labor. New Rochelle’s Project SEARCH is an award-winning program with an average employment rate of 90%.

Project SEARCH is an international school-to-work transition program for students with disabilities in their last year of high school. The program prepares students for competitive employment. The program is the only high school Project SEARCH program in Westchester.

Student interns complete three 10-week internships in which they gain competitive and marketable skills in Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital departments, such as the kitchen, cafeteria, housekeeping, medical records, health clinic, patient transport, emergency department, and the nursing and rehabilitation center. Students gain specific work skills, but more importantly learn important soft skills, such as communication techniques and workplace priorities, such as on-time arrival.

Kathy Barbara is the instructor and coordinator of the program and works with teaching assistant Lisa Mancuso. They teach employability skills such as resume writing, interview skills, teamwork, budgeting, personal management, health and wellness, and technology skills, in addition to the hands-on work skills at their internship sites.

“It is so rewarding to be part of such an amazing program,” Barbara said. “This program has been life-changing for many students who were not college-bound, but wanted to get a job when they graduated high school. I have many students who, because of this program, are employed in full-time jobs with benefits.” 

Michelle Ramirez is a graduate of this year’s program. She interned in Montefiore New Rochelle Hospital’s medical records department and business office, and worked as lobby ambassador. As a result of her internship training in Project SEARCH, she started a new job two weeks ago as a scanning technician. 

“When I started the program, I was a very shy and quiet person, but after completing the Project SEARCH program, I can’t believe how much I changed,” she said. “I feel like I have become a more mature and independent person.”

William Monzon also attended the program this year and will be returning for a second year. He envisions a culinary career and has interned in Montefiore’s kitchen and cafeteria. While speaking at Project SEARCH’s graduation, he said, “This program changed me a lot as a person. It made me grow, mature, and be responsible.”

Project SEARCH is a partnership among Montefiore New Rochelle, the City School District of New Rochelle, ACCES-VR, and Ability Beyond. Montefiore has hired five graduates over the years. Most students obtain jobs in companies such as ABB Optical Group, Digiscribe, Honda, Stew Leonard’s, Home Depot, Stop & Shop, and Aramark. Even after graduation, students are supported by ACCES-VR and Ability Beyond to ensure their employment is successful. 

New Rochelle’s Project SEARCH will start its 12th year in September and will receive an award at the annual Project SEARCH Conference in Baltimore in July for successfully placing 100% of last year’s interns in jobs.