Cris Carrillo walked out of the Mercyhealth Hospital and Trauma Center’s kitchen with a red Playmate lunchbox in hand and a hairnet on his head.
It was the end of 19-year-old Carrillo’s workday, part of which he spent prepping salads and desserts for the hospital cafeteria.
Carrillo is one of eight interns selected for the hospital’s first year as a Project SEARCH workplace partner.
Project SEARCH is a national program that provides work internships to high school seniors and recent high school graduates with intellectual or developmental disabilities.
The nine-month program aims to give participants skills and confidence to participate independently in the workforce, said Kathy Harris, vice president of people and culture at Mercyhealth.
The program was developed in Cincinnati in 1996, according to its website.
It reached Wisconsin in 2008, Christopher Hagerup, deputy secretary for the state Department of Workforce Development, said at a media event Tuesday.
Since its Wisconsin debut, 630 interns have completed the program throughout the state, Hagerup said. Eighty-eight percent of Wisconsin’s interns found full-time work after the program.
Mercyhealth is the first workplace in Rock County to partner with the program, said Trish Reed, a hospital spokeswoman.
The hospital’s Project SEARCH committee has been planning for the program for two and a half years.
Interns split their days between classroom instruction and hands-on work in various departments throughout the hospital, including food service and the pharmacy, said Amy Kniffin, program instructor.
Each intern works side by side with a mentor partner, she said.
Hakim Salaam, chef manager at the hospital, said pairing interns with the right mentors who have strong leadership skills is key to the program’s success.
Kitchen interns can learn communications skills, how to work with others, safe food handling and sanitation, Salaam said.
Carrillo is a recent graduate of Beloit Turner High School.
His favorite part of the job is prepping cookies and spending time with co-workers. The hardest part of the job, he said, is learning to communicate and follow directions.
Carrillo said he hopes to eventually get a job as a paraprofessional helping other kids with disabilities.