March 16, 2021

Project SEARCH Seacoast NH, a collaborative school-to-work program for students with cognitive and physical disabilities, will hold a virtual Information Session at 5 p.m. April 7 on Zoom.

During its decade of existence, the program has trained dozens of students, enrolled through Great Bay Community College, to become valuable employees in Seacoast-area businesses, including hospitals, banks, retail shops, hotels and offices. It has remained active throughout the pandemic and will graduate its next class of graduates in May. About 90 percent of graduates find employment after completing the program.

The community initiative is a collaboration among Great Bay, Portsmouth Regional Hospital, Community Partners, and NH Vocational Rehabilitation.

Project SEARCH students split their time between the classroom, where they study communication skills, teamwork and workplace behavior, and a rotating series of 10-week internships at Portsmouth Regional Hospital, where they perfect those skills in various hospital settings.

“The reason we are so successful is because of the follow-up support that comes after the students graduate,” said Abigail Olean, Project SEARCH Program Coordinator. “The learning takes place in the internships, and that has a big effect on the success. But after graduation, we help interns apply for jobs and prepare for interviews, and a career trainer supports interns to help learn the job so they can succeed.”

The program runs September to May, and between 8 and 10 students graduate each spring. They take classes in the morning in a building on the hospital campus, then walk to the hospital to perform their internships in a variety of roles and departments, including the cafeteria, housekeeping, and, during non-Covid times, patient transport, concierge, and the Seacoast Cancer Center.

Project SEARCH graduate Derek Charland of Rochester worked at Fairfield Inn by Marriott in Portsmouth most of this past year and recently was hired by the Holiday Inn in Rochester, closer to his home. He attributes his success to the confidence he learned through the program.

“I used to be kind of quiet when I was around people I didn’t know, but now I speak up all the time. And I know if I speak up, I won’t be taken advantage of,” he said. “It took me a while to open up with people, but now I just do it.”

With his self-confidence, Charland, 31, also has learned to be independent. He recently got a driver’s license and is searching for a place to live on his own. When he decided he wanted to work closer to home, he applied for a job at Holiday Inn, got an interview and landed the job.

“This is all because of Project SEARCH,” he said.

To participate in the virtual Information Session at 5 p.m. April 7 on Zoom, follow this link: