In August 2016, Westfield, a leading property and casualty insurance company, became the first employer in Medina County to welcome several high school seniors with developmental disabilities to spend their last year of high school learning a variety of job skills as a part of Project SEARCH. This is an innovative program that entails a multitude of partners. Westfield and Project SEARCH also work with Medina County Board of Developmental Disabilities, Oakleaf Partners (United Cerebral Palsy of Greater Cleveland), Opportunities for Ohioans with Disabilities and the Educational Service Center (ESC) of Medina County.
The goal for each student is to build a resume of skills and experiences that will help them find competitive employment after graduating from the program. During their time with Project SEARCH, students are partnered with two skills trainers from Oakleaf Partners and a teacher from the ESC to help them navigate three internships as well as classroom-based job and life skill training. The program has proven successful in helping the students find employment within the community as it has an 83 percent placement rate. With the help of Oakleaf job placement coaches, five of the interns in the 2016 class have secured permanent competitive employment — two of them at Westfield.
Students and parents say the program is life changing, in terms of increasing their ability to live up to their fullest potential. Chris Milota was a Project SEARCH intern who was hired on full time at Westfield as a dishwasher. His internship included dishwashing and housekeeping at the Westfield Inn, as well as food service in the dining hall. Chris said the internship
“…made me more responsible and helped me get a job so I can make my own money.”
Chris likes using the money he earns to purchase concert tickets.
The impact of the Project SEARCH program on Westfield colleagues is just as transformative. Project SEARCH Business liaison and HR recruiting leader Amy Davin said, “The most common feedback from teams participating in Project SEARCH is that the experience working with the students made the department and company better.”
“Some businesses think they do not have the capacity to adopt a formal program like Project SEARCH. But with two school years under our belts, I can confidently encourage any employer — of any size — to think creatively about ways to engage with young people on non-traditional paths,” says Davin. “It’s as good for business as it is for the students.”
Westfield welcomed the next Project SEARCH class in August 2018. The students will be partnered up with employee mentors and have the opportunity to meet and make friends with other Westfield employees.