Project SEARCH helps intellectually disabled individuals in Austin


by QUITA CULPEPPER / KVUE News and photojournalist SCOTT MCKENNEY

Posted on May 23, 2012 at 6:33 PM

Updated Wednesday, May 23 at 6:42 PM

AUSTIN -- It's a program designed to help those with intellectual challenges find their place in the real world. The Project SEARCH program started at a Cincinnati hospital, and the Seton Network adopted it in 2007.

It's changing the lives of some with autism, down syndrome, and other intellectual disabilities and helping them learn to find jobs, be independent, and be successful on their own.

Nick Buchanan, 24, works on the food line at Seton Medical Center on 38th Street, putting together meals for hospital patients. If you watch and listen, you soon discover that Nick is anything but ordinary.
He is a graduate of Project SEARCH. It's a program run by Seton Family of Hospitals that offers internships to adults with developmental disabilities. For nine months, they get job and social skills and other things they need to live on their own.
Nick is proud to be independent and earn his own paycheck.
“I feed the whole hospital,” Buchanan said. “I spend my paycheck on my activities and where I live.”
“It's a blessing to see how far he's come,” said Dena Shirley, the Project SEARCH site manager at Seton. “Without this program, Nick, I don't believe, would have been able to come as far as he has -- meeting new friends, even to go get his haircut by himself and learning how to leave a tip. For most people, that's easy. I am proud of this guy.”
Seton is the first employer in Texas with the program. 
“Right now I think the state is trying to find the resources to bring together everything so we can make this program successful statewide,” said Project SEARCH Coordinator Jenny Hawkins.
In the six years that Project SEARCH has been at Seton, there have been 42 graduates in the program; 23 of them work at Seton hospitals throughout Austin.
“For the community, it offers them a chance to see individuals with intellectual disabilities working side-by-side with them, doing similar jobs,” Hawkins said.
It's a chance that Nick and those who believe in him hope others can experience as well.
Project SEARCH is a collaboration between Seton, the Marbridge Foundation, and the Austin Independent School District.