About 61 million adults in the United States live with a disability, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Despite the progress made in recent years, people with disabilities still face barriers to equitable access to employment. This is often caused by a lack of resources or employment discrimination.
AdventHealth campuses across the U.S., with a commitment to foster a workplace where everyone can thrive professionally, are partnering with community organizations to provide a springboard for people with disabilities to reach their full potential through disability employment initiatives.
Through conducting vocational fit assessments and providing hands-on experience and mentorship, these programs aim to prepare young people with disabilities for careers in health care.
In Central Florida, Jayla Diaz and Gurkirat Kooner are among a growing number of interns in Project SEARCH, an international network that partners with organizations to prepare young people with disabilities for employment success.
The partnership between Seminole County Public Schools and AdventHealth provides an immersive learning experience that has empowered high school graduates like Diaz and Kooner to contribute toward the delivery of whole-person care.
“The project has enabled me to become independent and help people in need,” Diaz, an intern in the nutrition department, said.
For Kooner, a supply chain intern, extending kindness to new people is something he enjoys doing at work. “I love the project because I’ve been able to learn different skills,” he said.
Yamilet Irizarry, a volunteer services manager in AdventHealth’s Central Florida Division, said, “It’s exciting to watch these young adults step into roles and make a difference across all our teams.”
The end goal of the project is to provide opportunities for interns to become AdventHealth team members after they graduate from the program. Former interns Myles Lopez and Alejandro Vasquez said they’ve been equipped with the tools they need for the world of work.
“A leader I worked with during my internship rotations was the one who recommended me for my current role,” Lopez, a warehouse fulfillment specialist at AdventHealth, said.
Vasquez, a patient transportation specialist at AdventHealth, said, “I was the first intern to transport patients all by myself. My life has become better due to the support of my colleagues and leaders.”
Daniel Schnacker’s journey with AdventHealth began at a much earlier age, at AdventHealth Shawnee Mission in Kansas. At birth, he was enrolled in Britain Development, an AdventHealth B. E. Smith Family Center community outreach program that provides therapy and educational services for children with disabilities from birth through six years old. At the time, his mother, Janet Schnacker, was working as a registered nurse at AdventHealth.
Twelve years after Daniel’s graduation from the program, its impact has been felt significantly by his family. As Daniel joined AdventHealth as a Project SEARCH intern, his mother, inspired by the therapists who took care of Daniel during his early years, transitioned careers to become a physical therapy assistant working in the Britain Development program. Janet’s other son, Adam, also works in the program now as a physical therapist — a decision influenced by Daniel’s inspiring growth.
Janet said, “My interactions with my son’s therapists were always warm and welcoming. I felt like I was home and didn’t want to leave. I’m proud that my son lets his personality shine, and I like that he has continued to learn and develop with the assistance of the foundation he has gained.”
Daniel added, “I learned I was someone special when I was little. This is a safe place where I can express my feelings and show my deepest side.”
Beyond job skills, Project SEARCH interns also acquire important life skills such as communication and teamwork. Cielo Marroquin graduated from the program and now works as a day porter at the B. E. Smith Family Center. “Working here has made me a confident person,” she said.
As director for the center, Amy Milroy said the program is special to her. “I have a heart for children with special needs, and seeing their growth is inspiring,” she said.
For Amy Quinley, a project instructor, determining the best career fit for young adults is always a proud moment. “I always ask myself: ‘How can I contribute to helping these young talents find the right role?’ ” Quinley said.
In West Florida, the AdventHealth Pepin Academies Transition Program continues to impact young people with disabilities, including Sydney Caplinger, who previously volunteered in the cardiac interventional unit at AdventHealth Tampa. “I’m thankful to be able to show the same care and compassion to patients as I received during my health care experience as a child,” Caplinger said.
Laura Cole, volunteer services director for AdventHealth’s West Florida Division, said she always sees a special side of people with disabilities. “I see them as God sees them,” she said.