The Project SEARCH partners
The Project SEARCH partners: (L to R) Fabio Crespin, United Way Greater Toronto, Ron Felsen and Kathy Witherow, Toronto District School Board, Jeanette Campbell, Ontario Disability Employment Network, Meenu Sikand, Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, Angela Bradley, Community Living Toronto, Sue Jewell, Toronto Rehab-UHN. (Photo: UHN)

What started out as a phone call between two colleagues has grown into a community partnership that will change the way youth with disabilities approach the workforce.

Toronto Rehab on Tuesday proudly announced their participation in Project SEARCH, an international transition-to-work internship program for youth with intellectual disabilities. It aims to provide skills needed for competitive employment.

"A colleague from another healthcare organization called to tell me about a program she just learned about, and I immediately knew it would be a good fit for Toronto Rehab," says Amy Spear, occupational therapist and vocational expert at Toronto Rehab.

Together with Holland Bloorview Kids Rehabilitation Hospital, Ontario Disability Employment Network (ODEN), Toronto District School Board (TDSB), United Way and Community Living Toronto, Toronto Rehab demonstrates UHN's strategic priority of building and strengthening partnerships with peers to benefit our society.

A day in the life

Starting in September 2019, through the Project SEARCH program, students in their final year of high school will spend 10 months studying and working in non-clinical roles at Toronto Rehab and Holland Bloorview.

A typical day begins and ends with classroom instruction led by a TDSB teacher at TR's Rumsey-Neuro Centre. Topics focus on life skills that will help make students successful in the work place, such as money management and building interprofessional skills.

Thanks to the Toronto Rehab Foundation and generous donors, along with UHN's Facility, Management – Planning, Redevelopment and Operations (FM-PRO) team, the classroom will be renovated into a space that will set teachers and students up for success. It will be instrumental in undertaking research in this area. 

During the day, students will immerse themselves in internships in nutrition and environmental services and administration.

Upon completion of the program, an average of 75 per cent of interns find gainful employment. 

"Participating in Project SEARCH feels like a natural extension for us at Toronto Rehab," says Susan Jewell, Senior Vice President and Executive Lead for Toronto Rehab.

"We feel privileged to help youth with disabilities develop the skills and confidence they need to compete in today's job market, and truly understand what businesses are looking for."

Leveraging partnerships

Toronto Rehab's LIFEspan program provides youth and young adults who have cerebral palsy or an acquired brain injury with a bridge between pediatric and adult rehabilitation services.

The program provides a single point of access for specialized rehab, with an emphasis on helping these young adults develop skills to manage their own care and navigate the adult system. 

"Our team has always been focused on improving employment outcomes for our clients and Ontarians," says Amy.

"We know that pooling resources and partnering with existing community organizations, is the most effective way to affect change and build capacity."

"We were drawn to Project SEARCH and this wonderful partnership because we see this as an opportunity to learn from, lead, and transform our broader community," says Susan.

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