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Internship program at Kishwaukee Hospital in DeKalb leads to long term job placement

Area students with disabilities get to spend 10-months working in local hospital

DeKALB – An average day at Gehrig Frost's new internship at Northwestern Medicine Kishwaukee Hospital's emergency department looks like restocking laboratory trays for physicians and nurses, restocking warm blankets, wiping down counters and prepping for patients.

Frost, 20, of Sycamore, is completing his high school career at the hospital instead of Sycamore High School through a nine-month internship he began Aug. 15 as part of a new program called Project SEARCH. The program provides continuing education for young adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

"It's great for young adults just getting into the job world and seeing what all the possible jobs look like," Frost said Thursday after a ribbon cutting to unveil the ceremony at the hospital.

During the nine months, students intern for 10 weeks each in three different areas at Kish: food and nutrition where they work in the cafeterias, restock items, clean and check expiration dates on products. In patient care (where Frost works), they help sanitize counters, restock and clean. They also intern at the Health and Wellness Center.

Area high school students from DeKalb, Sycamore, Hinckley-Big Rock, Genoa-Kingston, Kirkland and Indian Creek apply for the program and finish their special education programming through their internships.

Throughout the process, students interview for each internship as with any other job, get evaluated throughout and upon completion are able to enter the working world with employable skills, said Stephanie Gregory, human resources programs manager at Northwestern Medicine.

"This is an amazing community program," Gregory said Thursday. "But the success is really when they can get a job. Seeing the pride they get when they interview, they get that job offer, and now they start getting a paycheck? That's amazing. It just takes them to a while different level."

Northwestern Medicine piloted the program at Central DuPage Hospital in 2013, expanded it to Delnor Hospital in 2015, Kishwaukee earlier this year, and head to McHenry County next, Gregory said.

Frost said he likes his internship so much that he can see himself pursuing a career in the field. Gregory said so far, Project SEARCH has an 87% long-term employment placement rate for interns who go through the program at Northwestern Medicine entities.

"It's a great opportunity to just see what a normal day looks in the job," Frost said. "When I first get here, I make lab kits, then I wipe down counters, check the nurse's kits, then I check the patient's rooms if they're clear. If their family members need help finding a room, I help them."

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