Parkview Health Logo

Work readiness internships at Parkview Wabash Hospital

WABASH, IND. – May 13, 2024 – There have been some new faces at Parkview Wabash Hospital in recent months. As they’ve gone about their daily duties, these young adults have learned valuable skills, formed friendships and brought joy to hospital co-workers, patients and guests.

Brianna “Bri” Lengel, Maddy Ball and Hunter Keaton are participants in Project SEARCH, a worksite-based school-to-work program that provides opportunities for students with disabilities. Parkview Wabash is a host business, working in partnership with the Arc of Wabash County, which started the work readiness program locally last year. 

Headquartered at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, where it was originally launched in the late 1990s, Project SEARCH now has program sites across the country and in the United Kingdom. The program “provides employability skills training and workplace internships for individuals with significant disabilities, particularly youth transitioning from high school to adult life,” according to Project SEARCH’s website. 

“Project SEARCH requires a host business to bring in interns to work in various departments,” said Kerri Mattern, leader, Community Health Initiatives, Parkview Wabash Hospital. “It teaches skills the participants can take into any workforce, such as arriving on time, working as a team, and completing tasks on time. The program builds confidence and independence in the participants. You can see their sense of self-worth grow. It’s wonderful from a work training and a personal skills perspective.”

All in their 20s, Ball, Lengel and Keaton have encountered a challenge that faces many people with disabilities as they age out of high-school-based programs: finding gainful employment in adulthood. According to a February 22, 2024, news release by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, only 22.5 percent of Americans with a disability were employed in 2023, and that figure was the highest recorded since 2008, when this type of information was first collected. In 2023, individuals with a disability represented about 13 percent of the population. About 50 percent of them were under age 65. Regardless of educational attainment or age, people with a disability were less likely to be employed than people in their age/educational cohort without a disability. 


Learning about work life, exploring interests

Parkview Wabash and the Arc of Wabash County work together to enable participants to build work skills and have a meaningful internship experience. An instructor from the Arc is on site all day, meeting as a group with the participants at the beginning and end of each day. This provides time for Ball, Lengel and Keaton to set their sights on upcoming tasks and celebrate victories or discuss questions that have arisen during the workday.

Since October, participants have each had the chance to rotate through two or three areas of the hospital, including guest relations, nutrition services and environmental services (EVS).

Maddy Ball entered the program wanting to try out various roles to help her figure out what kind of work she might like to pursue. Very sociable and cheerful, she has found friends and a rewarding environment in the Nutrition Services department. Taking patient orders for their daily meals, Ball enjoys talking with patients and joking with her co-workers.

Hunter Keaton was preparing to complete the final class to earn his bachelor’s degree in general studies through Indiana Wesleyan University in December 2023. Although he had volunteer experience, he was interested in becoming more prepared to seek paid employment. He has tried his hand in the Nutrition Services department and has successfully applied his sharp attention to detail tackling a wide variety of projects around the hospital, from computer work and filing to assembling patient information packets, designing communication bulletin boards and more. 

Like Keaton, Bri Lengel had unpaid experience in the community – volunteering two days a week with a local bakery – but she was aiming to develop skills that can lead to paid employment and a greater measure of independence. Personable and conscientious, she has excelled in her work, both in guest relations and EVS, and has moved on to Nutrition Services.


Embracing partnerships to create opportunities

Parkview Wabash’s involvement in Project SEARCH grew out of a conversation between Deb Potempa, market president, Parkview Health South, and Jeff Patton, CEO of the Arc of Wabash County. 

“When Jeff came to ask us to consider being a host facility, I was excited to bring this to our leaders,” said Deb Potempa, market president, Parkview Health South, and current member of the Arc of Wabash County’s board of directors. “I knew from past experience with Project SEARCH how rewarding this learning experience would be for the interns, and for our leaders and co-workers. However, I also recognized that when days are full, it can be challenging not only to get the day’s work done, but also to bring someone along with you to teach and observe each step and skill.I am so proud of our co-workers and leaders who embraced the opportunity to make a profound difference in someone’s future, and I would encourage other industries and businesses to be open to this opportunity.”

In addition to the program at Parkview Wabash, Parkview Hospital Randallia, in Fort Wayne, collaborates with Easterseals Arc of Northeast Indiana, which operates a similar program called the Employment Readiness Academy. Parkview Randallia has also hosted groups of eager learners, and Parkview LaGrange Hospital will soon be a host worksite as well. 

“We’re committed to creating a workplace that supports a culture of diversity, equity and inclusion, and our partnerships with the Arc of Wabash County and Easterseals Arc of Northeast Indiana have proven to be a comfortable way for these individuals to discover new opportunities in existing roles throughout our health system,” said Dena Jacquay, chief administrative officer, Parkview Health, who also serves on the board of directors for Easterseals Northern Indiana. Jacquay previously served on the board of directors for Easterseals Arc of Northeast Indiana.

For a closer look at how these programs are changing lives, view Parkview’s video.


Great joy 

Mattern noted that, whether doing a stellar job of keeping surfaces clean in patient rooms or cheerfully greeting visitors and answering questions, Lengel has found a real sense of confidence in doing tasks well and engaging with guests, patients and co-workers. She has demonstrated that she would be a valuable addition to any workplace.

“Watching Bri help visitors understand how to use the registration kiosk, I’ve been struck by how good she is with people. She’s very patient, friendly and thoughtful. 

“After years of being taken care of,” she continued, “Bri now has the opportunity to take care of other people, and you can see how much she loves it. This experience has really let her shine, and her sense of self-worth has grown. This is our hope for every Project SEARCH participant,” she said, “that they gain a sense of what they can contribute to a team so they can go on to find work that will enrich their lives and, hopefully, enable them to create social connections and support themselves financially.”

The Arc of Wabash County has followed the journey of Parkview Wabash’s three interns as they have progressed through their rotations in the hospital. To check out some of their activities, visit the Arc of Wabash County, Inc.’s page on Facebook.