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Project SEARCH's preparation, internships lead to good careers

Oliver McDowell is proud that his work helps ensure that hospital patients are well-cared for. He is a Central Processing Technician I and sterilizes medical equipment at Hennepin County Medical Center (HCMC) in downtown Minneapolis.

To get this good job, Oliver participated in Project SEARCH Minnesota, a collaborative program designed to assist students who have developmental disabilities train for and find a community job that fits their interests and needs. Key to this process is the opportunity for them to participate in three rotating internships within HCMC to help them decide on a career path.

Modeled after Project SEARCH at the Children’s Hospital Medical Center in Cincinnati, this program has multiple participating entities, including Rise, HCMC, Minneapolis Public Schools, Minnesota Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Hennepin County Developmental Disabilities Services, and the Minnesota Department of Education.   

Students from Minneapolis Public Schools participate in their last year of high school and are between the ages of 18 and 22.  They attend accredited classes in vocational readiness and training as well as participate in three internships lasting six weeks each. Students may work in HCMC’s Central Processing Department sterilizing surgical instruments, sort and deliver correspondence in the mail room, unload deliveries in the docking department, and work in the main kitchen and cafeteria.    

People benefit from doing actual work in a prestigious hospital, giving them a boost of confidence in addition to important marketable skills. In addition to the specific job skills they learn in each of their three rotations, the “soft skills” they learn are crucial to any kind of job they may apply for.

Students are referred to Rise’s Employment Consultant Ebony Johnson in December before their upcoming graduation in May to begin their job development plan. Ebony assists them in finding competitive employment within HCMC or out in the community; she then provides follow-up support services. This summer, Ebony worked with twelve students, six of whom have already been hired into great jobs, including at HCMC and the new US Bank Stadium.

Starting its third year this fall, the team of Project SEARCH collaborators work well together and maintain constant communication regarding the students’ activities and progress to help ensure their overall success.

Oliver, who was hired in January 2016, says the best part of his technician position at HCMC is the people with whom he works.   

“The hospital staff here are wonderful in that they really get to know the students and treat them as part of the team,” said Ebony. “They are interested in the students’ careers and do what they can to support them as they go through training, providing a real sense of community and camaraderie.”