So far, Project SEARCH has placed 16 students with disabilities in internships at NMMC during their last year of high school eligibility.
Students rotate through three areas of interest at the hospital while gaining social, communication and life skills.
"This is a win-win-win opportunity," Sondra Davis, chief human resources officer for North Mississippi Health Services, said. "The sponsoring organizations offer an amazing opportunity for these students, NMMC gains some valuable workers, and the students are granted a head start in a rewarding vocation."
Three Project SEARCH students — two from the Tupelo High School Class of 2020 and one from the Class of 2021 — have been hired as full-time employees at NMMC.
Susan Dudley, a Project SEARCH instructor who has taught for the TPSD for 23 years, praised the program for providing students with opportunities that they wouldn't otherwise have.
"It helps them figure out what kinds of jobs they like and prepares them to go to work," Dudley said.
Shaniya Cook completed rotations at NMMC’s Laundry Services and Child Care Center before the pandemic brought the school year to an abrupt end in March 2020. Cook completed a three-month paid internship through the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services in Laundry Services before being hired full time in November 2020.
In Laundry Services, employees work on a different machine every day because jobs are rotated to prevent ergonomic injuries caused by repetitive motion.
Cook's favorite machine is the carousel, where clean linen comes off a conveyer belt to be sorted and put on carts. She also likes her coworkers, many of whom are long-term employees and eager to help her learn the job.
"She is one of our highest producers," Charles Penson, operations manager for Laundry Services, said. "I’m proud of her. Her parents should be proud of her too. She’s amazing."
Ryan Bullock completed a rotation in Biomedical Services and was in the midst of his second rotation in Food and Nutrition Services at NMMC when a full-time position became available there. He was hired for the dish room, where his responsibilities include scraping, washing and loading dishes; wrapping silverware; unloading trucks from the central kitchen; and breaking down boxes for recycling.
While Ryan had hoped Project SEARCH would help him secure a job after high school, landing one while still in school was even better. He’s saving his paychecks to someday purchase a car.
"Ryan is a hard worker and willing to learn different jobs," Sandra Doss, buyer/coordinator and dish room supervisor for Food and Nutrition, said. "He caught on quick."
Leah Coleman completed rotations in Supply Processing Distribution and Central Sterile Processing before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools in March.
Her favorite rotation was Central Sterile Processing, where workers ensure that instruments are properly decontaminated and sterilized for surgeons to use.
Last summer, Coleman completed a three-month paid internship through the Mississippi Department of Rehabilitation Services in Central Sterile Processing, and when a full-time position became available in January, managers knew who to call.
"Leah learned very quickly," Cody Spencer, Central Sterile Processing manager, said.
"She is very dedicated and hard-working."
The Daily Journal wrote about Tupelo's inaugural Project SEARCH class in February 2020, highlighting the ways in which the program benefits student interns.
And in May 2020, Tupelo High School celebrated its first eight Project SEARCH graduates in an outdoor ceremony after schools closed and their internships were cut short due to the pandemic.