Mackenzie Koole, (L), Project SEARCH graduate and porter at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre, with Amy Spear, business liaison for Project SEARCH, pose for a photo outside of Toronto Rehab, University Centre. Toronto Rehab oversees the Project SEARCH program at UHN. (Photo: UHN)

Princess Margaret Cancer Centre is excited to welcome its newest porter, Mackenzie Koole, a graduate from Project SEARCH, a unique training program for students with an intellectual disability.

A partnership between the Toronto District School Board (TDSB), UHN and Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, Project SEARCH provides co-op placements for students with an intellectual disability to learn on-the-job skills in their final year of high school.

After just a few days of her placement with Toronto General Hospital's Transportation Services – part of UHN's Facilities Management – Planning, Redevelopment & Operations (FM-PRO) Department – Mackenzie was hooked.

"The atmosphere and support from other employees has been amazing," says Mackenzie, who started training for a permanent role at UHN this week.

While Mackenzie was initially apprehensive about working in a hospital – having never dealt with tubes, wires, wheelchairs or inpatients – Project SEARCH ensures every student is set up for success by pairing them with a job coach from Community Living Toronto, which also partners with the program.

Declan Gouveia, job and skills developer, worked with Mackenzie as her job coach for nine months in three different co-op placements. From the start, he knew she had the basic skills and could be trained to safely perform the porter role.

In his role, Declan coached Mackenzie on appropriate communication, conflict resolution and feedback. He also used techniques called errorless learning, which involves teaching someone in a way that they never make a mistake, so they learn and memorize how to do the task correctly, as well as fading, which involves slowly decreasing the amount of help a coach provides.

"By learning and applying those techniques…I witnessed her competence and confidence grow every day," says Declan.

Declan Gouveia, (L), job and skills developer with Community Living Toronto, and Mackenzie Koole, Project SEARCH graduate and porter at the Princess Margaret. (Photo: UHN)

Sandra Macalister, Manager, Transportation, Linen & Mail Services at Toronto General Hospital, hosted two Project SEARCH students, including Mackenzie, this spring. Just before high school graduation, Mackenzie interviewed for a permanent part-time position as a porter at Princess Margaret Cancer Centre and secured the role.

"I was thrilled that our departments would have the opportunity to help transition these young people from school to work," says Sandra. "The Project SEARCH team made sure the students were well supported, and my staff welcomed them with open arms."

Project SEARCH students acquire more than 700 hours of hands-on work experience geared to in-demand roles in the Toronto labour market. They learn employment and life skills, and plan their careers with guidance from a TDSB teacher, TDSB Education Assistant, and job and skills developers (job coaches) from Community Living Toronto. United Way Greater Toronto's Youth Success Strategy helps fund the job and skills developer role.

Project SEARCH graduates, including Mackenzie, are qualifying for complex and systematic roles in health care and other diverse organizations. In addition to UHN, graduates from past years have been hired at Holland Bloorview, Sodexo Canada, Compass Group Canada, State Window Corporation, Rosedale Golf Club, and in retail positions with various organizations.

To learn more about Project SEARCH, contact or visit

UHN employees, please contact to get involved.

Mackenzie Koole is a graduate of Project SEARCH, a unique training program for students with an intellectual disability. After completing a co-op placement as a porter at Toronto General Hospital, she secured a permanent position as a porter at Princess Margaret. (Photo: UHN)

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