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Inaugural program for individuals with intellectual disabilities holds graduation ceremony

Lake in the Hills resident Abby Stanton has longed to be more independent.

So, when an opportunity arose to take part in Project SEARCH, a program designed to support individuals with intellectual disabilities in navigating the workforce, she knew she couldn’t pass on it.

Fast forward about nine months later, Stanton has landed a job at Life Time Fitness.

Abby’s mother, Mindy Stanton, said her daughter has been looking forward to graduating from Project SEARCH and is excited about the next chapter in her life.

“She looks at this as like her college graduation,” Mindy said. “It’s very cool. She’s worked very hard since she was little to reach her goals. I feel like this is the pinnacle for her, and now anything’s possible.”

Stanton was among eight interns graduating Wednesday from the inaugural class of Project SEARCH in McHenry County. The program is part of an international network to help young people prepare for success in employment.

Through internships, job coaching, resume writing, interview preparation and job coaching, Project SEARCH aims to serve as a one-stop shop to help meet the needs of participants.

Sarah Basit, lead employability instructor for Project SEARCH, said all eight interns have landed jobs. She said that knowing they’re graduating speaks volumes about the program’s success.

“It’s a testament to their hard work,” Basit said. “We put in some work to get it up and running. We had a lot of trust in Northwestern Medicine and all of our partners to get this going and run it safely. But really, the interns did all of the hard work.”

Stanton’s classmate, Nick Pinter, said he enjoyed taking part in the graduation ceremony.

“It’s good seeing fellow interns, seeing my old teachers,” Pinter said. “It’s good to be here.”

Pinter capped off his time in Project SEARCH by giving remarks during the graduation ceremony held at McHenry County College in Crystal Lake.

Pinter said he’s gained a lot from participating in Project SEARCH.

“I definitely learned a lot, like what a real job looks like, different skills to learn,” he said. “We learned how job relationships are.”

Mindy gave kudos to the program for what it’s done to help her daughter land a job.

“Other programs, like through the high school, don’t give the opportunity that Project SEARCH does,” she said. “They really make sure that students find the position that they’re good at, that they enjoy. It’s been beneficial. They follow them for a year after to make sure everything’s still going well.”

Mindy said she’s so proud of her daughter for accomplishing her goals.

“Since Abby was young, she’s always wanted to get a job and be more independent,” she said. “I think it’s helped her become more independent. It’s helped her socially. So, it’s helped her reach her goals that she’s had for herself for a really long time and that she’s worked so hard for.”

Matt Carlen, the president at Northwestern Medicine Woodstock Hospital, said he appreciates all the hard work the interns put in.

Carlen announced during the graduation ceremony plans to expand the program to offer externship opportunities at the hospital’s Huntley and McHenry locations.

“It’s really awesome because they get to experience different things that you wouldn’t normally get at Woodstock hospital because it is a smaller hospital,” Basit said.

Basit said she hopes students will continue to work hard post-graduation. She has had contact with the interns five days a week since August 2020 and is excited to see how much they’ve grown over time.

“The people you see today are not who they were when we met them in August,” Basit said.

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