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Niagara Health, Csc MonAvenir celebrate accomplishments of first Project SEARCH graduates

Posted Jun 19th, 2024

Fiona Peacefull, EVP Human Resources, congratulates project SEARCH graduates

Fiona Peacefull, Niagara Health's Executive Vice-President of Human Resources, congratulates Project SEARCH graduate Alexis Vernon (foreground), while fellow Project SEARCH graduates (from left) Desiree Arsenault and Damien Hicks look on. The students graduated from the hands-on work experience program Wednesday.

Three young people are ready to embark on their careers after learning essential employment skills at Niagara Health to prepare them for the job market.

Désirée Arsenault, Damien Hicks and Alexis Vernon graduate today from Project SEARCH, a hands-on work experience program that prepares young people living with developmental and general learning disabilities for the labour market when they graduate high school. The trio have interned since January in the Dietary Services and Environmental Services departments at the Marotta Family Hospital in St. Catharines as part of the Project SEARCH program.

“Niagara Health is deeply grateful for our Project SEARCH partnership and its impact on our patients, team members and workplace,” says Fiona Peacefull, Niagara Health’s Executive Vice-President, Human Resources. “We are especially proud to extend our thanks and best wishes to the Project SEARCH graduates as they celebrate this wonderful accomplishment. And thank you to our team members who provided mentorship throughout this work experience journey.”

The students, from École secondaire catholique Saint-Jean-de-Brebeuf in Welland, were joined by a fourth classmate, Aaron Vanblaricum, who completed the experiential learning component of the program with another employer, R&R Bistro Café.

Arsenault, Hicks and Vernon say they each learned valuable lessons during their internships, which saw them work closely with Niagara Health staff, helping to keep the hospital clean and safe for team members, patients and visitors, and assisting with meal preparation for patients receiving care at all Niagara Health sites.

They look forward to what the future holds.

“During my internship, I've learned awareness. It's more than how the business works and the business environment; but it's also about connecting with my team, patients, and their families,” Vernon says. “This experience has opened my eyes and heart, and I'm so thankful for all the lessons Project SEARCH brought me.”

Says Arsenault: “Through the Project SEARCH experience, I have learned to manage my anxiety, how to persevere and increase my work ethic.”

Hicks adds, “During my experience at Project SEARCH I have gained and strengthened my adaptability in the work environment. Although I am still working on my weaknesses, I have no doubt that the teachings from this experience will help guide my way towards a positive future.”

The students’ graduation from Project SEARCH is both a proud and momentous occasion for Conseil scolaire catholique MonAvenir (Csc MonAvenir), says Geneviève Grenier, Csc MonAvenir chair. 

“Our Project SEARCH students have reminded us of the amazing possibilities that celebrating diversity provides, and also the importance of being open to adapting the way we all learn. The first year of Project SEARCH has made us all more resilient.”

“This day is highly significant for our interns as we celebrate their efforts, their personal and educational growth, as well as their enthusiasm for entering the workforce with their newly acquired skills,” Grenier says. “They are embracing their success with pride, self-confidence, and renewed optimism about their role in a more inclusive society. Thanks to the team at École secondaire catholique Saint-Jean-de-Brébeuf and the Special Education Department for making this project possible. The Conseil scolaire catholique MonAvenir is proud to be the first French-language school board in the world, in collaboration with the March of Dimes and numerous mentors at Niagara Health, to participate in this important milestone for our students.”

Project SEARCH is an internationally successful school-to-work model for young people with varying developmental or learning abilities during their final year of high school. The students are fully immersed in in-demand labour roles with a leading community organization. They also learn employability skills and plan their careers with guidance from March of Dimes Canada, the local vocational rehabilitation services counsellors.

“Here at Niagara Health with our partners, Project SEARCH has been able to provide a tremendous opportunity of experiential learning like no other,” says Michelle Gagnon, March of Dimes Skills Trainer. “Having the chance to work as key contributors within the departments of the hospital, alongside great mentors, the interns have been able to acquire skills they recognize as valuable in the ‘real world,’ as they call it. They gained confidence they had not thought was within them. Along this, they have gained empathy and self-worth through their contribution as members of a collaborating team. Further, March of Dimes has the joy of continuing to support these young emerging adults in supporting their transition into the workforce and their successful futures.”   

Project SEARCH also creates disability confidence in recruitment and retention, and builds a truly inclusive workforce culture. 

“Our Project SEARCH students have reminded us of the amazing possibilities that celebrating diversity provides, and also the importance of being open to adapting the way we all learn,” says Kevin Traynor, Director of Environmental Services. “The first year of Project SEARCH has made us all a little more resilient.”

This was the first Project SEARCH program to launch in Niagara. Niagara Health looks forward to continuing the partnership with Project SEARCH and Csc MonAvenir, welcoming a new cohort in September.

Niagara Health System