Helping hands

Helping students learn life and job skills while providing a service to the community is what Project SEARCH Minnesota is all about. Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center has signed on this school year to be a partner and a work site for Project SEARCH students, offering a variety of internships. The interns have on-site job coaches who monitor them and provide classroom time as well.

The interns start their day at Avera Marshall in the classroom learning “soft skills,” or tools to help them become employable, then they disperse around the hospital to different locations.

Cathy Schlagel, Project SEARCH director, said she checks in on the interns, particularly at the start of their day to troubleshoot any problems that might come up.

“Our goal is to get them to work independently,” she said.

Schlagel said a hospital is an ideal place to learn employment skills because it’s “a microcosm of a community – you have food service, housekeeping, groundskeeping, laundry, medical records which offers clerical experience. We’re really lucky they joined.”

“Avera Marshall was delighted to be chosen as the host worksite for Project SEARCH,” Sonya Kayser, Avera Marshall, Human Resources officer. “Avera Marshall’s mission is, ‘Avera is a health ministry rooted in the Gospel. Our mission is to make a positive impact in the lives and health of persons and communities by providing quality services guided by Christian values.’ Working with Project SEARCH students is helping us continue to live our mission statement. We are delighted to have the opportunity to work with these aspiring young adults and help them obtain the necessary skills to be competitively employable.”

“It’s a win-win for everybody,” Schlagel said.

The program is made possible in the Marshall area through partnerships with the Southwest/West Central Service Cooperative and Avera Marshall Regional Medical Center. It is in its third rotation at Avera. Each rotation – classroom time and internship – is 10 weeks long. In between the rotations, the students have classroom time and learn life skills, such as nutrition and personal finance.

The six students come from around the region, Schlagel said.

“They come from cities like Ellsworth and Montevideo,” she said. “They are mostly within the boundaries of SW/WC.”

Schlagel said by learning a variety of work skills, students get to “know what they like and know what they don’t like. That way they can make better choices about what they want to do.”

Doug Simpson of Ellsworth is currently on the maintenance rotation at the hospital. When it has snowed, he is in charge of clearing the snow from the entryways. When he’s not doing that, he does light maintenance, something he thinks he will pursue for his future employment.

“I like it,” he said. “I like using my hands.”

He likes the different jobs that comprise the maintenance field.

“It’s a variety package,” he said.

Chris Carpenter of Marshall is on laundry detail this session.

“We do a little over 1,000 pounds of linens a day,” he said. “That’s a lot of linen that comes in and goes out.”

Among Marie Nelson’s duties in dietary include salad preparation and table setting.

The interns agreed that Avera is a good place to work in, and the people are friendly to work with.

“They are a fun group of kids,” said Schlagel. “We are pleased that they were our first class.”