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While every participant of this year’s Columbus Community Hospital Project SEARCH group had individual and unique needs, all members exhibited one common trait: strong work ethic.

In fact, prior to Friday’s graduation ceremony, all three men part of this year’s program were busy at work helping out with a Human Resources project. That’s right, on the day of their graduation.

“They are so hardworking, they are the hardest working group of interns,” said Skills Trainer Barbara Olnes. “They would rather work than play on their phones or have free time, and that was really fun to see.”

Clad in their caps and gowns, Silas Tellez, Ian Henry and CJ McCann were honored by their friends and family inside of a community gathering room located at CCH. For about 6 ½ hours daily from August through May, the trio spent their days inside of the facility completing various rotations designed to provide them with a variety of work experience that will benefit them when they enter the workforce.

Tellez and Henry graduated from local high schools – Lakeview and Columbus, respectively, and McCann from Central City.

Project SEARCH, founded in Cincinnati in 1996, is a program designed to transition adults with varying disabilities who have completed their high school requirements into jobs suited for their abilities. Columbus Community Hospital is one of 16 Project SEARCH sites located throughout the state, said Melinda Allen, human resources education coordinator at CCH and Project SEARCH business liaison.

Project SEARCH representatives partner with various school districts to find students – up to age 21 – who could use some help improving various skills before diving into careers. In addition to completing different job training rotations, the three students spent time in the classroom with Olnes covering eight key areas of focus: team building, workplace safety, technology, self-advocacy, maintaining employment, financial literacy, health and wellness and preparing for employment.

This is the eighth class of graduates that have gone through CCH’s program. While three graduated this year, another spent a lot of time at the hospital interning but moved to Ohio prior to receiving her cap and gown.

“We actually had four participants, but one moved out of state toward the end of the program,” Allen said of 20-year-old Julissa Nave. “But she is doing well and has obtained employment, so that is a success story, as well.”

All three graduates polished their skills through their time spent at the hospital. Henry ended up adding extra rotations – in addition to the standard four – because of his outstanding work habits and pursuit of learning.

“Some people just call me Macho Man,” he said, with a smile.

Tellez said he most enjoyed his time spent working in the maintenance department, and McCann was a big fan of “Fun Fridays” where the group and staff played educational games.

Everyone affiliated with this year’s Project SEARCH program grew in one way or another, Allen said. And this is something she has learned to expect during her years helping coordinate the operation.

It’s nice knowing that she plays a role in helping graduates succeed.

“It’s absolutely fulfilling, just the best experience being able to see these kids come in very nervous, very much in their shell, and then they just break out of that and just gain a whole bunch of confidence,” Allen said.

Sam Pimper is the news editor of The Columbus Telegram. Reach him via email at sam.pimper@lee.net.

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