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Three Neshoba Central students working as interns at hospital

Three Neshoba Central students working as interns at hospital

Project SEARCH intern Mckenzie Street wants to work in a pediatrics clinic when she completes the program.

An ongoing internship at Neshoba County General Hospital sparked her interest, through the unique, business-led, transition-to-work program for students with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

The nation-wide Project SEARCH program comes under the umbrella of the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services.

It facilitates a seamless combination of classroom instruction, career explorations and hands-on training through worksite rotations.

Abby Butler, Jacob Clayton and Street are the first Neshoba Central students to participate in the program, working in such fields as radiology, purchasing and dietary at the hospital. Medical records and environmental services may be added in the future.

Interns spend the first hour of each day on curriculum, which is taught in a training room at the hospital.

Josh Burton, Neshoba’s Project SEARCH instructor, said the interns work three 10-week rotations in various areas from August to May.

They are trained to do a variety of tasks in each field, from stocking towels, linens and gowns, to cleaning and sanitizing machines.

They do patient transports, deliver packages and supplies and put together disposable silverware packages for the cafeteria.

Street, who also works part time at a Philadelphia restaurant, favors the radiology department, hence her interest in a pediatrics setting.

She likes to check patients in on a computer when they arrive in the radiology waiting room, prior to their out-patient procedures.

“Mckenzie doesn’t want to work in the food industry after she finishes school,” Burton said. “I told her, ‘If you work hard, you never know what will happen.’ She works hard and keeps us straight. If we mess up, she lets us know!”

Brandi Nickles, coordinator for Project SEARCH for the Mississippi Department for Rehabilitation Services, and Burton said the goal was for the interns to gain many transferable skills that would qualify them for a job not only in a hospital setting, but also in business and industry settings.

The interns perform tasks, which free medical professionals to spend more quality time with their patients, they said.

Nickles said the interns hone in on their time management skills as well.

“That’s huge,” she said.

During the last few months of the program, the emphasis is on refining skills, achieving the career goal and carrying out individualized job development.

By the end of the program, interns will have completed their resume and portfolio and, hopefully, be ready to enter the workforce.

The program is looking for areas businesses who are interested in either hosting Project SEARCH interns or hiring Project SEARCH graduates.

For more information, contact Burton at

Neshoba General Hospital is excited about the partnership with Project SEARCH and Neshoba Central, Lee McCall, chief executive officer, said.

“We look forward to working with these students to help them develop competitive skills for future employment opportunities,” he said.

Annette Watkins, marketing and public relations director at Neshoba General, said officials hoped to get the internships under way in 2020, but the Covid-19 pandemic caused a year’s delay.

“It is very fulfilling for us at the hospital to watch these young adults come in and gain life skills that they can take with them forever,” Watkins said.

An open house is planned later this month for the interns to meet-and-greet invited guests from the hospital, school and community as well as their family members.

While the interns are not guaranteed jobs under the program, the focus is to ensure that they gain employable skills to utilize after high school.

Neshoba Central hopes to expand Project SEARCH to six interns in the future, depending on the number of opportunities available.

Beth Bowman, job skills trainer for Project SEARCH said the program “provides two things for students with disabilities that they may have not ever had -- the dignity and respect that comes from being an employee and a worker. For the first time, they are part of a team with clear objectives, goals and direction.”

Project SEARCH serves young people with significant intellectual and developmental disabilities, who are typically on an Individual Education Program and in their last year of high school eligibility.