As a Project SEARCH intern with CHRISTUS Trinity Mother Frances Health System, Brenden Conner spent his last year of high school gaining skills that prepared him for a full-time job.

The program trains Tyler ISD students with disabilities for the workforce. Interns work alongside hospital staff and do jobs in radiology, x-ray, lab, housekeeping and other departments.

“The Project SEARCH program helped me find what I’m good at and what I wanted my first job to be,” Conner said. “I saw a lot of interesting stuff in x-ray and equipment distribution. I also now work in housekeeping, since I like cleaning.”

On Wednesday, the accomplishments of Conner and eight other interns in program at Christus Trinity Mother Frances Health System were honored at a graduation ceremony at the hospital’s Wisenbaker Conference Center.

Nine interns were commended for their hard work at a gathering of their friends, family members and officials.

The program functions through a partnership between the Christus Trinity Mother Frances Health System, Tyler ISD, the Texas Workforce Solutions’ Vocational Rehabilitation Services, Winning Edge Employment Services and the Andrews Center’s Behavioral Healthcare System.

During the school year — for six hours a day, five days a week — interns were placed in roles where they gained job skills and discovered the types of work they’d like to pursue after graduation. For one hour each day, the interns learned soft skills.

“One of the big benefits of our program is that it teaches them what a full-time job feels like and looks like,” Karen Pollard, iCare project manager with Christus Trinity Mother Frances Health System said. 

She added that by getting to work in different departments, interns are often able to discover positions they may have never known they would be good at.

“We have one intern this year who came in not really knowing what he wanted to do and ended up getting an internship in the print shop and absolutely adores what he’s doing,” Pollard said. “It turns out, he’s really good at it. He is now looking for a job at a print shop or a graphic design (job) where he can bind books and put things together.”

As of Wednesday, two of the interns had jobs with the hospital system, while others have found positions with other local employers.

Tyler ISD Superintendent Dr. Marty Crawford attended the graduation ceremony and smiled as he handed the interns their high school diplomas.

“I think outcomes come in many different varieties and certainly this is a day of celebrating those outcomes,” he said. “It’s not just one test on one day but it’s certainly experiences they can take with them for the rest of their life. Those are the types of outcomes that we really strive for in Tyler ISD.”

Conner said he is thankful for the program and all the ways it prepared him for the next chapter of his life.

“Project SEARCH not only helped my find work, it also helped me ride paratransit and find friends for a lifetime,” he said. 

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