Robeson Community College

Robeson CC’s “Project Search” in the News

Interns proving they are ‘able’

Program helps prepare students for work

By Gabrielle Isaac –


Taylor Warren, an intern with the Project SEARCH program, packs cups of salad for patients to have at dinner time. Warren is one of nine interns who were chosen to participate in a job training program for people with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Elena Hunt, left, intern with the Project SEARCH program, types a name into the computer with the help of Dominick Watson, a receptionist and greeter and Southeastern Regional Medical Center.

Martin Chavis, the youngest intern in the Project SEARCH program, stocks viles in the lab. Chavis collects specimens throughout the hospital and brings them to the lab for testing. He has also learned how to fill orders and use the transportation tube.

Lydia Blue, left, and Austina Dykes, interns with the Project SEARCH program, insert patient information into the hospital’s system. Dykes said that she joined the program in August for her daughter. She currently works in the Education Department, but is happy to help in other areas too.
LUMBERTON — When 27-year-old Austina Dykes saw she could receive job training at a hospital, she knew she had to take advantage of the opportunity for her daughter.

But this training was unlike any other — it provided young adults like Dykes who have intellectual and developmental disabilities training that will allow them to compete for jobs.

Dykes and eight fellow unpaid interns visit Southeastern Regional Medical Center Mondays through Thursdays from 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. where they spend four hours in various departments and the remainder of the day learning job skills.

“The job I really want is to work in a hospital like this as a nurse; I really want a job here,” said Dykes, who began the program in August. “I’ve had a lot of people in the past say that I can’t do something because I don’t catch on as fast as others. But I studied hard and the job has been going well and I’ve been doing a lot and working with a lot of people.”

Project SEARCH of Robeson County is a first-year collaboration between Southeastern Regional Medical Center and Robeson Community College funded by the N.C. Council on Developmental Disabilities and The Department of Health and Human Services’ Division of Vocational Rehabilitation Services. The international program, which originated at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital in Ohio in 1996, targets people with disabilities between the ages of 18 and 29.

According to the American Association on Intellectual and Developmental Disabilities, those who qualify for the Project SEARCH program have “significant limitations in both intellectual functioning and inadaptive behavior” or may have physical limitations.

Dykes works in the Education Department at the hospital and in the Community Health and Education Center inside Biggs Park Mall. Her fellow interns work in food services, pre-registration, guest services, same-day surgery, the main hospital laboratory and other areas.

Durham White, supervisor of Employee Services at the medical center, said when positions become available, the interns will be “serious candidates” for the positions.

“While this has been a great experience for our students, it has changed the hospital’s perception on what people with disabilities can do,” said Elizabeth Hunt, Project SEARCH coordinator. “I had one employee come up to me in tears. She said she felt bad because she thought her intern would make her job harder, but she didn’t realize how much the intern could do.”

Interns are learning how to overcome barriers through Hunt’s program, YES Robeson, a youth employ-ability service at Robeson Community College.

Terry Coleman, a job coach from Revelation Placement Service, which has been contracted for the project’s vocational rehabilitation, said people underestimate those with disabilities and are often hesitant to work with them.

But since beginning the program, Coleman said hospital employees have realized the interns are up for the challenge.

“The supervisors of their department gives us great feedback,” he said. “Everyone knows our interns. When Austina walks down the hallway, they’ll all stop and wave or say hello.”

Martin Chavis, the youngest intern in the program at 19 years old, works in a laboratory, collecting specimens, according to Banessa Williams-McCormick, Project SEARCH instructor. Chavis has learned how to fill orders and stock medicines.

“It’s a lot of fun,” he said.

Taylor Warren packs food into containers in the Food Services Department, and Lydia Blue and Elena Hunt greet clients and escort them to their destinations within the hospital.

Williams-McCormick said the interns attended the same new employee orientation as the hospital’s employees. When the interns go to their respective jobs, they are initially walked through their task and left alone to perform it on their own without help.

“Our goal is to teach independence as much as possible and a lot of them want to learn,” said Williams-McCormick. “We do really appreciate the opportunity from the hospital.”

A graduation is planned for the interns in June.

The program will welcome a new group of interns in July. To become eligible for the Project SEARCH program, a person must be between the ages of 18 and 29, be in their last year of schooling and have an intellectual or developmental disability.

For information, call 910-735-8498 between 1 and 3 p.m. Mondays through Thursdays or visit The deadline to apply for the program is April 1.

Gabrielle can be reached at 910-816-1989 or on Twitter @news_gabbie.