Texas Health program offers hands-on training for students with disabilities

dfwnewsa | December 25, 2023 | 0 | Fort Worth , Fort Worth News

Texas Health program offers hands-on training for students with disabilities

Martin Vasquez, 19, is a student from Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School. He is currently an intern with Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth’s materials management department. The internship is through the Project SEARCH program. (David Moreno | Fort Worth Report)
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Every morning, Martin Vasquez, 19, pushes a utility cart stacked with supplies through Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth. 

He navigates his way through multiple floors and drops off special orders to various departments. Once Vasquez finishes his rounds, he makes his way down to the materials management room on the bottom floor of the hospital for his next order. 

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Vasquez, who is a student at Diamond Hill-Jarvis High School, never thought he would get to work at a hospital. A new program opened the doors for him. 

In August, Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth launched the Project SEARCH internship program in partnership with Fort Worth ISD. The nine-month program provides eight students who are between 18 and 19 and have intellectual and developmental disabilities with hands-on work in a health care setting.

“I get to deliver orders, and it’s very cool,” Vasquez said. “I’ve pretty much learned my way around the hospital.” 

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The students work in several divisions at the hospital, including environmental services, food and nutrition services, human resources, materials management, cardiovascular intensive care units, and the orthopedic and trauma unit. 

Project SEARCH is currently at two other Texas Health locations: Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas and Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Plano.

Vasquez and the other interns also work alongside Fort Worth ISD special education teacher Arden Winter and teacher’s aide Crystal Vargas, who are on-site every day. They teach the interns how to apply and interview for jobs and work on resumes. 

“We follow them out into their roles and rotations and help support them,” said Winter. “When we’re in the classroom, we explain the importance of a resume and what it can do for each of them. A lot of them don’t understand what it is, so we have to start at the very basics and build upon that.” 

Giving students with disabilities the opportunity to cultivate their work skills is important to help them in their careers. A couple of the hospital’s departments have already expressed interest in hiring their interns if a position opens up, said Nancy “Nan” Branch, manager of volunteer services at the Texas Health Fort Worth hospital. 

“These young individuals get the opportunity to see what it’s like to have a job that they may not otherwise get,” she said.

The program also has served to give students with disabilities the platform to have a voice, said Winter. 

“A lot of the interns have never really been treated like adults. I don’t know that a lot of them have ever really felt heard,” she said. “Having them be the center stage of their experience, I think has done a lot to help the way they interact with their peers, even just in this small amount of time and teaches them how to actively listen to one another.” 

Left to right: Crystal Vargas, teacher’s aide with Fort Worth ISD; Martin Vasquez, intern with the materials management department at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth; Arden Winter, special education teacher with Fort Worth ISD. (David Moreno | Fort Worth Report)

The interns will receive their high school diplomas in May. The hospital plans to hold a separate graduation celebration for them, said Branch. 

After graduating, Vasquez hopes to continue working part time at Texas Health Harris Methodist Hospital Fort Worth while he attends college, which he hasn’t decided on yet, and pursues a degree in business design.

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“When I started here I was a little bit nervous, but I’ve been taught the ropes about things,” he said, “and I couldn’t be more grateful about it.”

David Moreno is the health reporter at the Fort Worth Report. Contact him at david.moreno@fortworthreport.org or via Twitter.

At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here.

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