Delaware, OH,
16:29 PM

Delaware Gazette: Project Search Program Changing Lives

“Going through life hasn’t been the easiest.”

20-year-old Kara Huggins sits in a classroom at OhioHealth Grady Memorial Hospital this week; learning how to write a check, balance a bank account, and how to get ready for a job. By mid-morning this intern, in the Project Search program, will pick up her mail delivery and walk the halls of Grady, zipping in and out of offices with a smile. She’ll later move to her space inside of the hospital’s supply chain area, sorting medical supplies, and getting them ready for deliveries.

She does this with ease.

But as she said, life hasn’t been easy.

“For the first 2 years of her life, she had 6 open heart surgeries,” Kara’s mother Lori Huggins said. "Cleft lip and palate, I don’t even know how many surgeries for that. They basically made a lip for her.”

Lori Huggins watched this little girl who had fought through so much adversity at such a young age grow into her teenage years knowing that she would face even more challenges with kids her own age.

“She started to do more with the family, we were much more accepting,” Lori Huggins said.

“High school was difficult,” Kara says. “I kept to myself, sometimes I would get picked on.”

She had grown quiet, less outgoing, trying to find her way.

At the end of high school, Kara’s family knew they needed to start thinking about what the next chapter would be. They found their way to a national program offered locally in Delaware County, called Project Search.

“I said hey, it would be a great experience,” Lori said to her daughter.

Project Search is a transitional program that focuses on employability and vocational skills for young adults with disabilities. Each student enrolled has an intellectual impairment. In Delaware County, the classroom and internship portions of the program happen at Grady Memorial Hospital. Students work through three 10-week rotations in different parts of the hospital.    

“This is my third year with the program,” Maddy Shumaker, Project Search Instructor said. “I love Grady, it’s a great fit for the students, has that home feel, nurturing, a real sense of community.”

Shumaker approaches her role as not only a teacher but a boss. She sets the schedule, has expectations, check-ins, progress reports, and more. She also has a connection with each student that walks through the door.

“I feel like a Mom,” Shumaker said. “It’s a really cool experience in this type of position. You get to see the end result of your efforts for the school year. It’s hard when they leave, but rewarding to see right out of the gate where they end up in their careers.”

Shumaker works through the Delaware Area Career Center. She works hand-in-hand with the Alpha Group of Delaware, a non-profit helping with job coaching, and job development. They are also connected to Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities, a state agency helping to fund programs like Project Search.

“Our facility provides the job coach and developer to the client and family,” Megan Harriman, Community Services Assistant Supervisor for Alpha Group of Delaware said. “It’s amazing to see different individuals from where they start to where they end up.”

Some interns will go on to careers within OhioHealth care sites.

“OhioHealth and Grady Memorial Hospital value the contribution and worth of each individual.” Steve Bunyard, President of Grady Memorial Hospital said. “We really enjoy the relationship Grady and Project Search have developed over the years, and couldn’t be more pleased with the end result; finding good jobs, for great people.”

That next chapter is still to be determined for Kara. She still has a few months before her internship is over. But she and her family are already seeing big changes.

“I think this experience has been quite a change for me,” Kara said. “People haven’t always been the nicest, but this experience changed my expectations of how people treat you when you want to be treated nicely. I’m proud of myself.”

“I’m very proud of her,” Lori said fighting back tears. “She has realized that she has this potential and it isn’t always about the visibility, but the person inside.”

Kara says she looks forward to living on her own, getting a new car, and a career.

She says, maybe at a hospital. To make the tough moments of life for others, a little easier.

“I have been in hospitals all my life. I want to see others who might be in the position I was, and put a smile on their faces,” Kara said.

“That is what this program has brought out in her, Lori Huggins said. “She knows she has more than what her disability shows. This program is wonderful, it has given her confidence and self-worth.”

Written by Marcus Thorpe, OhioHealth Media Relations Manager for OhioHealth Grady Memorial Hospital. This story was a submission to The Delaware Gazette and ran in its February 5 issue. You can read the article here.