LAKELAND, Fla. — Leaving high school and entering adulthood can be a difficult transition for anyone. 

  • Project Search locations include Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center
  • Six students graduated this year from the transitional program
  • LINK: Project Search web site
  • More Polk County headlines

However, imagine trying to find a job and dealing with a disability.

According to Cornell University 2017 Disability Statistics, people with disabilities are employed less than half as often as their counterparts without disabilities. According to the university’s statistics, in the United States in 2017, the percentage of working-age people with disabilities working full-time for an entire year was 23.9 percent. 

Project Search is working to change that. Developed at Cincinnati Children's Hospital Medical Center, it now has 600 job sites. One of them is Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center, where the program is in its third year. 

This year, six students graduated from the transitional program, which prepares students with disabilities for the workforce.

One of the graduates, Kevontae Jones, was all smiles as he celebrated his graduation from the program and his new job at Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center in housekeeping.

"It feels really good to have money in your pocket," Jones said. 

He said he’ll mainly stock supplies and move hospital beds, and do whatever else is requested of him. 

His mother, Katina King, couldn't hold back her joy.

"Excited, yes, so excited. I am very excited for him. I am very happy. When they told me they were going to hire him, I kept on telling him God (is going to) bless you with this opportunity," said Katina King.

Jones' brother Elijah also successfully completed the internship program at the hospital.

The program involves mentorship and on the job training for an entire school year.

"We have everything from technology to maintenance to engineering to construction to medical type positions," said Sandy Perlewitz, the Project Search Facilitator. 

The interns work in different departments within the hospital, picking up new skills along the way. Staff also teaches them resume writing and interviewing skills. 

"We try to help them build their self determination, their self advocacy, problem-solving skills and things like that," Perlewitz said. "We also deal with banking and things like that. Teach them basic finances.

"I'm happy to say that every one of our students is making more than minimum wage. So I mean, I believe five out of the six are full time. They've got benefits, 401(k) plan, so it"s amazing."

Lakeland Regional Health Medical Center collaborates with Polk County Public Schools, the Center for Independent Living in Central Florida, Inc, Florida Development Disabilities Council, and Florida Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, to run the program.