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Kalamazoo RESA Project SEARCH Recognized at National Convention

By Raine Kuch, Kalamazoo RESA Communications Intern

Project SEARCH, a Kalamazoo RESA transition program in collaboration with Bronson Healthcare, was nationally recognized at the 13th Annual Project SEARCH Conference in Anaheim, Calif. The team was honored with the Model Fidelity Spotlight Award in Transformative Collaboration.

Project SEARCH trains individuals with disabilities to perform complex jobs and supports interns in finding paid employment in the community. A nationwide program in more than 600 cities, across 49 states and 12 countries around the world, there are currently 20 active Project SEARCH sites in Michigan alone.  

“Project SEARCH is the best example of families, schools, community and local businesses coming together to focus on supporting young adults with disabilities to be productive members of their community,” said Kathy Hurley, the Kalamazoo RESA transition coordinator. 

The 13th Annual Project SEARCH Conference, held from July 29 - August 2, was the first to present the Model Fidelity Spotlight Awards, including Spotlight on Host Business Excellence to TSYS in Columbus, Ga, and a Spotlight on Innovative Employment to Children’s Hospital of Wisconsin in Milwaukee, Wis.

Hurley, along with Bronson Project SEARCH Instructor JoAnn Hurst, attended the conference and accepted the award on behalf of the program.

“This was my first experience at the Project SEARCH conference and I left Anaheim feeling completely energized!” said Hurst. “I was so impressed by the willingness of all the presenters to not only share their experiences, but to actually share all of the tools they use in their Project SEARCH settings.” 

Project SEARCH, housed at Bronson, was started seven years ago and has already employed 60 interns, 53 of whom have found gainful employment.

“Our goal as a team is to help our interns find meaningful paid work,” said Adam Danapilis, program administrator for Project SEARCH and principal of the Young Adult Program (YAP). “Our team focuses and advocates for change in our workforce by educating and training employers on hiring individuals with disabilities. This improves community health, equity and inclusion in Kalamazoo County.”

Project SEARCH is an internship program with a singular goal: employment. Interns at Bronson participate in three internship rotations designed to develop the essential skills needed in the workforce. 

“[Interns] are embraced, celebrated, and held to the same standards of excellence as any other employee,” Danapilis said.

The Kalamazoo RESA Project SEARCH program has recently secured another internship site at The Radisson Plaza Hotel and Suites at Kalamazoo Center, expanding its program to accommodate more interns. Its close proximity to Bronson and accessible transportation make the Radisson an ideal location to expand the program. The Radisson has also been a close partner with YAP for nearly 20 years.

“Expanding Project SEARCH provides opportunities for more students to be trained in complex jobs, to work toward meaningful employment in our community and to be prepared to live a meaningful and purpose-filled life,” said Danapilis. “Radisson adds to the influential champions we already have in our community that is transforming our practices and making lives better for individuals with disabilities. I am extremely excited about this partnership and where it will go in the future.”

Project SEARCH in Kalamazoo is a collaboration among several local organizations: Kalamazoo RESA, Michigan Rehabilitation Services, Kalamazoo Community Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, Bureau of Services for Blind Persons, Bronson Methodist Hospital and Radisson Plaza Hotel and Suites at Kalamazoo Center.