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Springfield’s Project SEARCH internship program helps individuals with disabilities develop marketable skills and secure competitive employment

By Brady Cote

With its mission statement of “preparing young people with significant disabilities for success in competitive integrated employment” in mind, Project Search continues to help those strengthen and develop skills in the workforce worldwide.

Project Search was developed at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center by Erin Riehle in 1996, and has since spread like wildfire amongst numerous locations such as hospitals and colleges. Within the past five years, the program has had 19,502 people enroll, of whom 63 percent ended up with jobs after completion.

22 years later, Project Search expanded to Springfield College and is run by the program coordinator, Ruth Poirier, and the site coordinator, Brian Benoit.

Project Search is an internship program that is split into three 10-week periods where those enrolled can work at a hospital or college campus, exploring different jobs and professions.

“Being immersed in the host site gives them the opportunity to try out how they would do in a work setting,” Poirier said. “It’s not just about doing the tasks; it’s also about how they fit in socially because I feel like those are the biggest hurdles.”

The program is not only an internship, it also follows a skill-based learning curriculum that provides lessons on communication, financial literacy, social skills, time management, workplace safety and more.

The Springfield College vision is that those registered find employment after they complete the program. Since 2018, the program has only grown stronger as more people have signed up.

Unfortunately, in its third year of this young program, Project Search on Alden Street was left with no choice but to be sent home in 2020 during the spring semester due to COVID-19.

“I engaged with the interns as best as I could virtually,” Poirier said. “Project Search says that as long as the individual has completed two out of the three rotations, they can be considered completed.”

Luckily, 2020 was the only year where the organization was forced to operate virtually.

Although the pandemic was a difficult period, it forced many to become innovative and learn how to teach uniquely in a variety of ways.

“It was a real eye-opener because we were able to see the different ways we could deliver services and keep people engaged,” Poirier said. “It was a good way to step back and look at how we’re running things.”

Both Poirier and Benoit have been able to connect their interns with jobs on campus, such as the mailroom, athletic equipment center, IT department, custodial grounds, etc.

The program works patiently with its interns, ensuring a positive work environment that initiates growth and development in each job and rotation.

“Patients and also the recognition of if something’s not working out, let’s try something else,” Benoit said. “If it’s a certain task where someone has limitations, we try to find a different way to work through that obstacle.”

Although this program is still young on campus, it continues to make a lasting impact, as they give opportunities and experience to all those who become involved.

“The word of Project Search has become more known,” Benoit said. “That has definitely changed from when it first started.”

Project Search intends to continue growing and is always open to students who are interested in applying for an internship where they are able to work alongside those enrolled in the program and gain experience in the field.

Any further questions about Project Search or the internship program can be answered via email by Ruth Poirier ( or Brian Benoit ( Students can also swing by their office in Locklin Hall, room 105, to set up a meeting in person.

Photo courtesy of Project Search

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