Project SEARCH Program at Lakeland Regional Health Graduates Seventh Class of Job-Ready Students with Disabilities

April 21, 2023


Lakeland, FL – This year’s Project SEARCH class will be graduating at 11:00 a.m. on Monday, April 24, 2023, at the Mulaney Family Auditorium, part of Lakeland Regional Health located at 1324 Lakeland Hills Blvd Lakeland, FL 33805.  Over the past year, the class of students from Polk County Public Schools has intensively worked with their teachers, job coaches, and mentors on developing marketable and transferable job skills.

The Project SEARCH program at Lakeland Regional Health works with students with disabilities, ages 18 to 22, to help prepare them for highly skilled, complex jobs in a variety of industries. 100% of this year’s Project SEARCH participants have already secured employment and are looking forward to starting their jobs after graduation.

Project SEARCH provides support and training that continues after graduation. Students continue to receive job coaching and support from the Center for Independent Living and Vocational Rehabilitation trainers while working and earning income. Additionally, any students not hired by graduation continue to receive job placement assistance and other support services leading to paid employment.

According to a 2023 report from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, in 2022 the unemployment rate for persons with a disability was about twice as high as the rate for persons without a disability. Project SEARCH offers students with disabilities a way to close the gap through on-the-job skills training in complex, in-demand jobs; increasing their ability to find and maintain successful competitive employment. This collaboration between Lakeland Regional Health, Polk County Public Schools, the Center for Independent Living in Central Florida, Inc, Vocational Rehabilitation, and the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council provides an evidence-based program for transitioning students with disabilities from school to work.

Project SEARCH at Lakeland Regional Health shapes a brighter future for participants with disabilities while inspiring other businesses to get involved in this successful model, boasting a higher placement rate than the national average for Project SEARCH programs.

About Project SEARCH

Project SEARCH, based at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, is a business-led, one-year work-preparation program for young people with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Most participants are enrolled while transitioning from high school to work. The hallmark of Project SEARCH is total workplace immersion, which facilitates a seamless combination of classroom instruction, career exploration, and hands-on training. Project SEARCH’s primary objective is to secure competitive employment for every program participant. There are 600 Project SEARCH sites in 48 states and 10 countries. For more information, visit 

About Partners involved in Project SEARCH

Center for Independent Living in Central Florida, Inc. – provides long-term retention and follow along for eligible individuals who receive a competitive job at the host business or in the community.

Lakeland Regional Health – provides a variety of internships that teach core skills of the business and a liaison to coordinate the program. Student interns are immersed in the host business for the entire day and year of the training program.

Polk County Public Schools – provides instructors and recruits appropriate student participants through either a local education agency and/or a career technical school. PCPS is among the 30 largest school districts in the United States and the seventh-largest in Florida — serving more than 114,000 students.

Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation – provides individualized career counseling and guidance for eligible student participants. Vocational planning and support may include job coaching and placement.

Florida Developmental Disabilities Council – provides assistance to other team members for job coaching and competitive job placement in the community.

Project SEARCH History

In 1996, while working as the Director of the Emergency Department at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Erin Riehle was frustrated with finding employees for entry-level jobs that involved restocking supplies.  While working to identify a solution to eliminating the high turnover rates, Cincinnati Children’s adopted a major diversity initiative, taking a policy statement from the American College of Healthcare Executives, which reads, “Healthcare organizations must lead their communities in increasing employment opportunities for qualified persons with disabilities and advocate on behalf of their employment to other organizations.”  Erin wondered if people with disabilities could fill the entry-level jobs, she had. Not knowing anyone with a disability she turned to Great Oaks Career Campuses and the Hamilton County Board of Developmental Disability Services and asked if her idea was possible. Together with these organizations, the idea of filling a handful of jobs in Cincinnati Children’s Emergency Department evolved into a comprehensive program model: Project SEARCH.

About Lakeland Regional Health

Not-for-profit Lakeland Regional Health reaches beyond its hospital walls to promote wellness, education and discovery in new places and new ways, providing a wide range of inpatient and outpatient healthcare services at its Medical Center, Hollis Cancer Center and ambulatory care locations. Lakeland Regional Health earned Most Wired Advanced and Most Wired status eight times since 2013 and has earned workplace awards from Forbes, Gallup and Becker’s Hospital Review. Its 892-bed comprehensive tertiary referral hospital, Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center, operates the Jack and Tina Harrell Family Institute for Advanced Cardiovascular Medicine; a Level II Trauma Center; the Carol Jenkins Barnett Pavilion for Women and Children, which includes a Level III Neonatal Intensive Care Unit; and the Bannasch Institute for Advanced Rehabilitation Medicine.